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Macintosh-Windows Translation Dictionary

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It's been hard keeping this one under wraps, but for almost a year and a half now, I've been working on a truly neat project that's also been one of the hardest things I've ever done and, I hope, one of the most useful. Together with David Pogue (who you may know as the author of "Macs for Dummies" and the Desktop Critic column in Macworld magazine each month), I've written a new book called "Crossing Platforms: A Macintosh/Windows Phrasebook" (ISBN 1-56592-539-4, O'Reilly, 1999). The book lists for $29.95, but is readily available for less from most booksellers, including Amazon, with whom TidBITS has an affiliate program.

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Understanding the Concept -- The book is essentially a translation dictionary, much like you'd use when travelling to look up a word in your native language to learn the corresponding word and pronunciation in some other language. You could also liken it to a language phrasebook that would tell you how to say, "Waiter! There's a dragon in my soup!" in another tongue. In this case, though, the languages in question are those of the Mac OS and Windows 95/98.

The translation dictionary approach is an unusual one for a book, but it fits perfectly with its target audience. Imagine that you're an experienced Macintosh user who has to start using Windows at work. You're neither stupid nor a novice, so straining useful information out of an introductory Windows book would be tedious at best. And if you're like the rest of us, you just want to get some work done without spending a lot of time reading. For instance, you might want to make an alias on a Windows machine and not even know that the Windows equivalent is called a shortcut. Look up "alias" under A in Crossing Platforms, and it will promptly identify the Windows equivalent as a shortcut, tell you how to make one, and explain the differences between Macintosh aliases and Windows shortcuts.

Alternatively, imagine that you've finally convinced a Windows-using friend or family member to buy a new iMac (joining the hundreds of thousands of other Windows users who've done so). You've set yourself up for Macintosh tech support for life, but what do you do when your new convert asks about the Macintosh equivalent to protocol components in the Windows Network control panel? You can quickly flip to the Windows side of the book, look up Network control panel under N, and see what the Macintosh equivalent is (and once you've been tipped off, explain how to set up the AppleTalk and TCP/IP control panels on the Mac). Or, of course, you could encourage your friend to get their own copy of the book so they can translate from Windows to the Mac on their own.

The Goals -- I wanted to write this book for a couple of reasons. First, despite misinformed comments about how Windows 95 was "just as good as" the Mac and some superficial similarities, the Mac OS and Windows are quite different, especially at a deep conceptual level. When I needed to use Windows to write about Windows versions of Internet programs, I found these conceptual differences quite annoying - I had come to Windows with the impression it would work more or less as I expected a Mac to work, and I was quickly disabused of that notion. So my first goal was to help Mac users avoid the frustrations I went through with things like trying to make my PC stop asking me to login at every startup.

Second, while working on Cary Lu's "The Race for Bandwidth" with Steve Manes, a columnist for Forbes who concentrates primarily on the PC world, I had numerous long discussions with Steve about things that bugged him about the Mac OS, coming at it as a PC user. I could generally fix his problem and explain why the Mac OS worked as it did, but I started to see how a PC user could find the Mac OS frustrating as well, and I tried in the book to explain the Mac so that Windows users will see the power, consistency, and flexibility of the Mac OS.

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These two mindsets - a Mac user having to use Windows and a Windows user trying to learn the Mac - proved to be the focus of the discussions David and I had while working out the design of the book. And when I was writing each alphabetical chapter, I had to keep reminding myself which mindset I needed to use for each entry. Luckily, as the reader, all you need to know is which half of the book to use. If you're a Mac user learning Windows, use the first half. If you're a Windows user learning to use the Mac OS, stick with the second half.

Sample Material & Reviews -- To get more of a feel for the book, you can read the A chapters on O'Reilly's Web site. If you're interested in reviewing the book, interviewing me or David about it, or inquiring about discounts on bulk purchases (for departments whose Macs have been taken away, for instance), send me email at <ace@tidbits.com>.

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