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The Power User's Manual (Review)

cover"The Power User's Manual -- Over 1000 hints & tips for the Macintosh"

Randal L Kottwitz

MacUser Publications Inc., 1986

Cover price: Not known

"You are now holding the most comprehensive compilation of hints and tips ever published for the Macintosh user." This back cover blurb seemed pretty plausible to me when I read this book shortly after it was published. New versions of software appeared less regularly in those days and the tips were still pretty useful a year or so after publication, adding to the information I avidly devoured from magazines such as MacUser (the UK publication from Dennis Publishing) and less professional ones such as Apple 2000.

The preface, dated July 1986, explains how the book was published using the tools of the day. Tips were entered into a Microsoft File database for management and editing. The database was dumped into a text file for basic formatting in MacWrite. When the publishing team were happy with the content, the MacWrite file was imported into PageMaker for fine tuning, proof pages being generated on a LaserWriter. Finally the pages were submitted to the digital typesetters for output on a Linotronic 300P. So, apart from the product names, not a lot has changed in the world of database driven desktop publishing during the last 17 or so years...

The hardware used was equally impressive. This 160 page book was started on a hard diskless Mac 512K and completed on a Mac Plus on a basic AppleTalk network. MultiFinder and the Mac II were still just rumours.

More than 100 Mac software and peripherals are discussed in the book; today it seems that there are roughly that number of enhancement tools for the OS X Safari browser. Like it or not, some of the applications are still around (PageMaker, Microsoft Word and Excel) while others would rather be forgotten by all who encountered them (Lotus Jazz and Microsoft Multiplan). Apart from the compact Macs, most of the hardware will now seem a bit weird -- imagine a scanner that the user assembles by clipping a scan head to a dot matrix printer (Thunderscan).

For the contemporary compact Mac collector and user, there is still a lot of value in this book. Up until OS X, the Mac desktop and menus changed very little on the surface but the real differences and limitations are noticeable when you try to do any real work a 128 and 512 system. The tips on Switcher, system compatibility, conflicts and general pre-System 6 strangeness will help in your transition to a real vintage Mac.

And if you feel like publishing your own book of tips for vintage Mac users using contemporary hardware and applications, you'll find this book indispensable. 

Some extracts from the Power User's Manual are available in HTML format (Warning: 180Kb file, no images). The extracts cover the Mac system software and related topics; if you need the tips on particular old applications, you'll have to find a copy of the book.

A few words from the author of the Power User's Manual (quoted with permission):

Hi Phil,

I am the original author of The Power User's Manual. A friend of mine was randomly "googling" his friends the other day, put in my name, and came up with your review and excepts. I'm deeply flattered that all these years later the information I put in that book is still of some use to someone. Indeed, your nod to the process of making the book is gratifying as well -- to my knowledge, no one else was doing such a project on any PC, so I think I actually invented the whole database publishing process on a microcomputer. I know the folks at MacUser were astonished at the process. One minor note -- you make reference to the publishing team being happy with the content. Although I had an editor for the text, other than that I WAS the entire publishing team. I spoke with Paul Brainerd at Aldus at the time. He made a comment that anyone who was publishing more than 16-page documents on PageMaker had to be crazy. He was shocked when I handed him a proof of the book.

So, there's a little more background for you. Again, I'm deeply flattered that you've chosen to spend so much time on my old chestnut. Although it was a technical compilation, the book was put together with much love, so it means a lot to me that someone noticed.

Warmest regards,
Randy Kottwitz

This page last updated: 14 February 2004

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