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Books, reading and computers

7 September 2011

Yesterday I went to the university library to change some books, and  took out four computer books. Two of them dealt with the new versions of Microsoft Office, which we have recently installed. One of them was on the older version of Microsoft Access, and the VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) programming language. Quite obsolete, but I have an obsolete version of MS Access — the 2000 version.

There is a trend nowadays not to provide software with printed manuals, but to assume that “Help Files” will make it possible for people to use the program. Well, perhaps that works for some people, but it doesn’t work for me. Perhaps that explains why most of the software I use most often is at least 15 years old — it had printed manuals so I could learn how to use it.

Back in the early 1990s I used to use a database program called Paradox. I was able to do quite a lot with it, but then they changed to an object-oriented script language, which would have meant starting from scratch, and it somehow wouldn’t work on my new computer, so I gave up. Microsoft Access seemed to do the same kind of things, but was more difficult to use, and yesterday, for the very first time, after 13 years, I saw a book in the library on its script language. I’ve never seen one in a shop, ever.

So there I was, lying in bed and reading about these programs, and suddenly things started to make sense. In the new version of MS Office there is a thing called the “Backstage”, and now that I know what it is there for I might be able to make use of it. Paradox used to have something similar, called the “Canvas”, but I was able to find that out pretty quickly in the manuals that came with the program.

I’ve also had Open Office on my computer, but I’ve never really been able to use it. Why? Because I’ve never seen a book on it.

With Microsoft Office, even if the software didn’t come with proper manuals, one could at least buy third-party books in a bookshop, well, for Word and Excel at least. I’ve never seen one for any of the Open Office applications. Come to think of it, I’ve also never seen one for Microsoft One Note either. Maybe it does things better than the 20-year-old DOS version of askSam that I use but I wouldn’t know, because it doesn’t have a manual that I can read in bed or in the bath. So I go on using askSam, and go on learning new things to do with it, even after 20 years.

I keep reading articles that say that this is the trend. Paper books are on the way out, and soon we’ll be reading everything in electronic form.

I’m not so sure about that.

I’ve never seen a Kindle, and I’ve never seen one advertised in South Africa. I just can’t picture myself using one, somehow, after my experience of less than helpful “Help Files”, which are a very inadequate substitute for a printed manual.

So there I was, browsing the shelves of the Unisa library, looking for books that might be useful. It was like archaeology, really. Rows and rows of books on MS DOS, and programs that ran under it. Remember Multimate? I’d almost forgotten.

Books on how to do stuff in Turbo Basic, Turbo Pascal and Turbo Prolog.

I played with them all at one time, but none of the programs written in those languages work any more. Apparently modern processors are too fast, so all the programs try to divide by zero or something.

So there are all those books for programs that are no longer available or no longer work, so you can’t use them.

And no books for the programs that are available, so you still can’t use them.

Or perhaps the library has them, but they are all taken out.









One Comment leave one →
  1. Kathryn permalink
    9 September 2011 6:38 am

    I need manuals as well. I don’t know what versions you have of anything but I know my books are avaiable for all MS software versions. I use “Windows 7: The Missing Manual” by David Pogue, “Plain & Simple MS Office” by Katherine Murray (general overall guide) and for individual programs use “Teach Yourself Visually” guides. I got them from Amazon but earlier versions can probably be found through interlibrary loan.

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