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The troubleshooting bookshelf

Stocking your shelves with one of these books could save you hours on the help lines.

A multitude of troubleshooting books exists for Microsoft’s Windows XP, and, unless you have more money and time than I do, you’ll never be able to buy or read all of them to find out which ones are the best. And that’s where I come in. This time around, I’ll review five of the best guides for trouble-shooting Windows XP.

Peter Norton’s Complete Guide to Windows XP, by Peter Norton, John Paul Mueller

SAMS Publishing, $44.99

For my money, Norton guides are always at or near the top of any list. They’re always well-researched, accurate, and easy to follow, and Peter Norton’s Complete Guide to Windows XP is no exception. The guide is extremely readable and offers a plethora of hard information aimed at the intermediate to advanced Windows power user.

The attention to detail is especially evident in this guide, as every subject that it covers is thoroughly explored–and then some. For example, the section on firewalls not only explains what they are, what they do, and how to trouble-shoot them, but also explains how to configure them and get them to work with various other software packages. The thoroughness is refreshing in that very few (if any) stones are left unturned.

As a bonus, the guide includes several tips interspersed throughout the various chapters. The much maligned Windows XP Clear Type font smoothing, for instance, is addressed in detail, and the guide gives clear, concise instructions for switching to standard (or no) font smoothing for those who just can’t stand the new feature.

Peter Norton’s Guide to Windows XP covers just about any trouble-shooting or configuration snafu you’re likely to come up against. And if your goal is just to learn more about your new OS, this guide will serve you well for many months to come, or at least until the next version of Windows comes out.

Microsoft Windows XP Inside Out, by Ed Bott, Carl Siechert, Craig Stinson

Microsoft Press, $44.95

This book, which includes a CD-ROM and is aimed at readers already familiar with the operating system, weighs in at an incredible 1,296 pages and covers just about every subject that most experienced business and home users of Windows XP would ever think to research. Topics include tricks for optimizing Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, editing the Windows XP registry, configuring startup and shutdown options, setting up permissions and encryption to protect your files, and more.

The how-to instructions that illustrate many of the sections are especially well done and most are annotated with pointers and labels to insure complete understanding of the sometimes-tricky (and occasionally confusing) commands. For example, the section on setting up your own wireless Windows-based network is especially well done, and should help even the most network-timid of users get a network up and running in the minimum time.

The CD-ROM is no less impressive than the book and includes a nice selection of Microsoft add-ons, third-party utilities, and demos. The CD can be accessed through a fairly intuitive HTML interface and also includes sample files (batch programs and scripts) to better help you customize Windows XP.

Novice users would probably be lost fairly early on in the book’s voluminous chapters, but if you already have a good working knowledge of the OS and need to be able to troubleshoot or configure Windows XP, this hefty tome is more than worth the price tag.

Microsoft Windows XP Unleashed, by Terry W. Ogletree

SAMS Publishing, $49.99

Like “Microsoft Windows XP Inside Out,” this book assumes that the reader already has a working knowledge of Windows XP before even picking it up. The book combines documentation of the new OS’s features along with troubleshooting and configuration hints that you’d probably never manage to find on your own. The result is a well-balanced book that can help you better take advantage of Microsoft’s newest operating system.

The book is divided into five main sections: Architecture and Installation; Desktop, File Management, General Configuration; Administration, User Management, Technical Issues; Multimedia; and the Appendices, which include a guide to using Windows XP on a notebook computer and an overview of the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol. Just about any issue you could conceive of is covered somewhere in those five sections, though it might take a little patience to find it.

Some of the more interesting topics covered in the book include a how-to section on building network bridges between dissimilar operating systems, pushing hardware profiles to their limits, and optimizing memory. In fact, using the tips and instructions outlined in the book, I learned a few new tricks on pushing my 512 MB of memory even further.

Windows XP Professional–The Ultimate Users Guide, by Joli Ballew

The Coriolis Group, $44.99

Whether you’re new to Windows XP or just need a handy reference guide, this book can be an invaluable resource. Famous for its exam prep books, Coriolis has released a manual that just about anyone could use to learn the OS. It also would help technicians prepare for Windows XP certification.

The book delves into the new System Restore feature, which takes a snapshot of the system at various times so that problems can be repaired–or rolled back–easily. It also covers features such as driver verify utilities, scalable memory, and increased virus protection, though it concentrates more on teaching you the various features of Windows XP than solving specific problems. Exercises are included for each section to help you learn more about the OS and how to fix various problems that might come up.

Topics covering troubleshooting include permissions and policies, creating user accounts, security, and mobile user setup. This book’s name is a bit overblown–it is not the ultimate user’s guide. While not as thorough as some of the other books covered in this column, the guide does contain a lot of useful information and should be helpful for novices and grizzled veterans alike.

Windows XP for Dummies, by Andy Rathbone

Hungry Minds Inc., $21.99

Dummies books are no longer just for dummies, if they ever were in the first place. While this book definitely isn’t for advanced users, novice and intermediate users should be able to get a lot out of the book in terms of general knowledge as well as low-level troubleshooting.

The guide is written in an appealing, free-flowing style, which manages to be both clever and clear. There’s a lot of valuable information hidden among the cute illustrations and funny headings peppered throughout the book, though it’s likely nothing that you don’t already know if you’ve been using the Windows OS environment for more than a year or two.

If you need a guide to help you get into the nitty-gritty of Windows XP, choose one of the other books reviewed in this column. If, however, Windows XP leaves you confused and befuddled, or if you’re just having problems learning the multitude of commands that the new OS offers, then this book is a great primer to getting started.

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