Book Review: Windows 7 Digital Classroom

5 Dec

Today I shall be giving a brief and unprofessional review of the ‘textbook’ that is being used for my Networking 101 class. A review of the class itself may be forthcoming later, after I have passed it. But for now, we shall concentrate on the book, whose author cannot take punitive action involving my GPA.

Windows 7 Digital Classroom retails for forty dollars. It includes 536 pages of text and an instructional CD that contains sample materials (photographs, mostly) for use in practice exercises with certain programs, and instructional videos to accompany the text. That is a baseline factual description of the book, and is probably the last time I will agree with Wiley Publishing about it.

Let’s analyze the claims on the back cover, shall we?

Click to embiggen

We are promised:

  • Software experts and master teachers
  • 15 lessons
  • Instructions in the book to enhanced with video tutorials
  • Essential Windows 7 skills

To start, the instructions in the book are not enhanced with video tutorials; the video tutorials are expanded upon in the book. The videos essentially cover the entire chapter, minus a few details, in five to ten minutes of active demonstration, which is worth several times the number of words in the chapter. Had they sold the DVD for ten bucks as a stand-alone tool, I’d give rave reviews save to snark about the voiceovers and suggest some musical accompaniment, and we wouldn’t be here scribing this painful review.

In regards to the second point, there are fourteen lessons, not fifteen. You could hypothetically count the prologue about installing Windows 7 as a lesson, but to do so would be disingenuous for two reasons. One, it should really be part of Lesson One, which is “Activating your copy of Windows 7.” You won’t have to do this if you’re not installing it. The other reason is that if you need this book, you shouldn’t be installing Windows 7. Why? Lesson two explains such things as The Minimize Button and what a checkbox is. To refer to our list of promised features, these would, I admit, fall under Essential Windows 7 skills. However, if you don’t know them before Lesson One and Lesson Square Root of Negative One, then you should not be performing the actions detailed in those early pages. You can’t! You are incapable of grasping the purpose of a checkbox.

In other words, this book is intended for your grandmother. That is the general you, not the specific you, so please do not comment and tell me that your grandmother has been hacking since the introduction of ARPAnet. If this is the case, then it is for your great-great-great grandmother, the one who singlehandedly protected her farm from enemy troops during that big war of the time with nothing but a shotgun full of straightpins. Yeah. She was awesome. But I bet she didn’t know what a checkbox is. I mean, she couldn’t vote.

So, with the given that the book assumes its audience to be complete and utter morons, let’s examine whether these are master teachers, shall we? Let’s take a look at Lesson four, and the section regarding changing display and input languages. This is a helpful tool if, for some reason, you happen to be Ukrainian and reading a book in English in hopes of running your American copy of Windows in Ukrainian. The book details, as it does everything, the very simple process of changing languages. What it fails to mention, however, is that this is only possible in the Enterprise and Ultimate versions of Windows 7, not in the cheaper Professional and Home versions. You can only find that out if you happen upon the unreferenced Windows Features table in the appendix or if, like me, you were trying to use this feature for a lab and found yourself unable to since you had not spent a hundred extra dollars on your copy of Windows 7. This problem comes up again when the book is trying to teach you to create user groups in Lesson 9. It explains how to do so using Microsoft Management Console, a feature not available in Windows Home edition. This details is never mentioned once, not even on the features table. Since You, the flailing, helpless, computer-illiterate Victorian era Ukrainian grandmother, probably have the Home edition, you will never know what is wrong. Ever.

To be fair, when explaining how to do X or Y, the instructions are very thorough and precise, and they do have the promised array of screenshots helping the narrative along. I would not argue that this makes them master teachers, only very good at repeating themselves (since opening a program is pretty much the same every time, guys) and assuming that their audience consists of complete and utter morons.

No, I am not calling your grandmother a moron. But then, I am pretty sure she knows what the Start button is by chapter 7, an optimistic view not taken by the authors of this book. I’d like to establish something else, while we’re at it. I keep saying “the authors” because the book discusses there being multiple teachers and because it is apparently scribed by Kate Shoup and the AGI Training Team, but I think it important to attribute most of the hard work and material within this book to Ms. Shoup. This includes all of the screenshots and sample files pictured within the text, from the bevy of photos of her adorable daughter to the text works featured in the explanations of Wordpad and the RSS feed feature of Windows Live Mail. Let me direct your attention here to page 446.

Page 446. Totally innocent.

Can you read the blog post shown in that reader? No? Let me blow that up for you a little.

Seriously, wtf?

Now, maybe your grandmother doesn’t have the eyesight to read that. Maybe she doesn’t mind reading about Kate Shoup’s next door neighbor O who wants to have sex with her constantly. But I know I wouldn’t give this book to my grandmother, and certainly not to my kid. Thankfully, I have no kids and my grandmothers are both dead. But the point stands, largely because the other text example I mentioned, the one from Wordpad? That’s about talking someone down from suicide. Really? Did she really not have some more innocent, less tawdry texts to use as examples? Could she not have written some, if not?

(I’d link you to the author’s blog from which the above text was screenshotted, but it has been deleted FOR REASONS I CAN’T IMAGINE. I can, however, link you to the only surviving archived post from the author’s blog. Google cache had nothing. How do I know it’s the author’s blog, you ask? Because searching for it on Google brought me to her inactive podcast that not only contains the exact same profile as her blog, but links to her web page. I love the internet.)

So, to review, this is a book that has:

  • Writers who assume the worst regarding the reader’s intelligence level
  • 14 lessons and an intro that can help you destroy your computer entirely
  • Great video tutorials
  • Essential Windows 7 skills, in the same way that Adenine, Thymine, Guanine and Cytosine are essential building blocks of life.

Is it useful? Yes. I exaggerate, but for, say, Unfrozen Cavemen, this book would explain how to use Windows 7 quite well. Is it worth $40 US? Mmmmmaybe. Should I have bought it? No, clearly, but that’s part of the post I can’t make until after my final. Should you? No. You made it to this blog. You operated the internets. You are overqualified for this book.

Now try fending off an army with a shotgun full of straightpins.

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