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Keywords: Windows XP, house-keeping, technical support
Title: Big Book Of Windows Hacks
Author: Preston Gralla
The Big Book of Windows Hacks isn't like any of the other Hacks series (such as the titles devoted to Knoppix, Excel, Google, Statistics and the rest) published by O'Reilly. For starters it's a whole lot bigger (both in page size and count), and it's has one author, whereas most of the other books are communal affairs featuring multiple authors. But that aside, it is structured around sets of hacks that help readers delve into the secret high-ways and by-ways of the subject - and in this case it happens to be (mainly) Windows XP and Vista.
The book is organised into 13 chapters devoted to specific themes: start-up and shut-down; hacking the interface; explorer and files; IE and the web; networking; email; wi-fi; security; applications (including Office 2007); graphics and multimedia; system performance; hardware (including Zune) and ending with a chapter on the registry and group policy editor. In all there are 188 hacks listed in the book, which is plenty of meat for the reader to get his or her teeth into. Oh, and the book is dotted with 'quick hacks', these are short, sweet little snippets of useful info that show you how to perform specific tasks, generally using open source tools or web sites.
The format of the hacks is fairly typical - there's a one line description of the topic (for example, how to surf anonymously - for free), and an icon to show whether the hack applies to XP or Vista or both. Then there's some discussion of the issue, with background and asides, and then the heart of the hack. Often this is finished off with a 'hacking the hack' section, which provides pointers for developing the ideas even further. As a template it works very well, and it means that you can read each hack as a standalone piece - which makes the book great as a resource for dipping into rather than a book that needs reading cover to cover.
One of Preston Gralla's previous books was 'PC Pest Control', which was full of sound technical advice but featured one of the worst colour schemes ever seen in a book. It was migraine inducing. This book on the other hand scores highly in terms of lay-out and design. It looks good, and the cool design works to add to the content rather than to detract from it.
However, the main point of a book like this is to provide solid technical content to the reader, and that is precisely what the book manages to do. It's pitched at the averagely competent reader, it doesn't talk down to it's audience and neither does it expect you to be a seasoned hacker. Even if you're well versed in getting the best out of a Windows PC, there's still going to be stuff here that you'll find interesting and useful. Overall we give this a recommended rating.