by Tonya Engst -- TidBITS Special Projects Coordinator
Microsoft's Word has a ton of options buried in its menus, though it can take patience to make these options show their heads and perform their tricks. In fact, many people use Word for years without delving into its depths. Peachpit Press recently published "The Little Mac Word Book," a book that should help anyone harness Word's capabilities.
With lively prose and a liberal sprinkling of screen dumps, author Helmut Kobler explains not only how to use Word's features but also which tasks are particularly suited to the different features. Don't think of this book as a heavy reference tome, but rather as light (or at least somewhat light) reading that you might do over a weekend. The Little Mac Word Book actually would make a good reference for most purposes, but it's not completely comprehensive. It should be especially good for newcomers to Word and for people who have used Word for a while but infrequently use some of its deeper features such as table of contents, tables, and placing graphics on a page. If you never use a certain Word feature because you can't figure out the arcane logic behind it, this book should help you out. In addition, Word works much better for people who are more aware of what it can do, so reading this book could enhance your overall Word experience.
Kobler begins with a summary of what's new in Word 5.0, giving brief descriptions and page number references for where the book explains the features in detail. The book continues with a Project Guide, which matches common projects with features in Word will be most useful and with more page number references.
Somewhat predictably, the next section has a basic introduction to word processing (let the computer do the wrapping; cut, copy, and paste; saving files, etc.). Interspersed through these expected explanations Kobler has sprinkled tidbits that many Word users will appreciate (Word's different views, how Word repagination works, selecting text using different techniques, and more). The section is to be commended for explaining about never using spaces in place of tabs right up front, and for a good description of using the SFDialog box, a place where many beginners get stuck.
The rest of the book systematically explains how to do most of the things that you would ever wish to do in Word. The book struck me as being particularly strong in its explanations of how to use Outlining and Framing. Other strong points included indexing, table of contents, print merges, and footnoting. On the whole, and for most practical purposes, the book is outstanding. Unfortunately, though, the book also has a number of minor glitches. Some of these appear to be due to careless editing, and some are most certainly due to the inherent difficulties in writing a book about a program while the program is in beta. I don't know how commonly books such as this have errors, so I don't know exactly how damning a criticism this is.
Two errors that particularly caught my attention were these. First, in the final release version of Word 5.0, the program can open and save files in WordPerfect for DOS versions 5.0 and 5.1. Perhaps due to the usual pre-release shuffle of features that do and do not miss the deadline, the book states that Word 5.0 will save and open files for Mac WordPerfect and WordPerfect for DOS versions 4.1-5.1. Don't look for these translators - they just aren't there, and WordPerfect users may have to convert to a more compatible format manually before transferring the files to Word 5.0. The second glaring error comes when the book incorrectly states that in one operation Word can do a find and replace in the main section of the document, as well as in the header, footer, and footnote sections. Unfortunately, this task is beyond Word 5.0's capabilities.
Visually, the book has a fair amount going for it. The headers are in an easily readable grey-blue color, making it easy to skim for particular information. The text is nicely broken up by screen dumps illustrating directions in the text, and ample margins leave room for notes if you like to write in books. Also in the margins are related tips and tricks. The only problem that I noticed was that in my particular copy the leading ("line-spacing" in Word-speak) looks a bit strange after some of the sub-headings.
In conclusion, the Little Mac Word Book certainly works as a credible reference for Word 5, but what makes it stand out is its friendly layout and spirited prose. An interested Word user could probably read straight through without falling asleep (something that certainly could not be said about Word 5.0's admittedly-improved manuals), and any Word user should be able to use it to quickly find out how Word can most effectively do what she wants it to do. True power users who require an in-depth reference to every possible word feature will find this book a little light, but most Word users should find it a useful addition to their computer libraries. The Little Mac Word Book retails for $15.95 and should be available at good bookstores everywhere by now.
Peachpit Press -- 800/283-9444 -- 510/548-4393