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The Second Coming, Cheap

We’re all used to purchasing updates to software packages since the programmers add useful new features and fix bugs, right? The more I learn about the publishing industry, the more I realize how closely it resembles the software industry. Consider the second edition of a book – the author covers the subject more completely, makes corrections, and eliminates facts that have passed the way of the Mac Plus and the carrier pigeon. The only difference is that because books are usually inexpensive, publishers seldom offer discounts to those who purchased the first edition.

The second edition of Rich Wolfson’s (now co-authored by Sharon Zardetto Aker) PowerBook Companion (Addison-Wesley, ISBN 0-201-62621-7) is now available, and in an unusual coincidence, there’s even a trick for buying it cheap. I first reviewed Rich’s book in TidBITS #152, giving it the highest of marks, if I remember correctly. I’ve read the second edition, and it satisfies the requirements of an upgrade, offering new features and bug fixes.

Whereas the first edition covered only the PowerBook 100, 140, and 170, the second edition covers everything up to the 180c, including the Duo 210 and 230 (but not the just released 250 and 270c). The sections on peripherals and software swelled to discuss the many products that have reached the market since the first edition, and in general the book feels fuller. The first edition filled the need of the new PowerBook market starved for solid information; the second edition comfortably covers the now-mature PowerBook world.

One of the high points of the book is its charts. It has charts outlining the features of every PowerBook model and a chart detailing the power states of different components when the PowerBook is awake, sleeping, or shut down (with a separate chart for the 100, which is often different). Perhaps the most noticeable addition to the book is a disk containing oodles of freeware and shareware PowerBook utilities to monitor your battery, fatten your cursors, toggle your AppleTalk, and so on. There’s nothing here you couldn’t find online, but for those without solid network access, it’s a major bonus.

The personal tips and quirks remain from the first edition as well. Rich and Sharon doctored several About This Macintosh dialogs used in screenshots to identify the PowerBook in question as an as-yet-nonexistent 190 running System 8.1. And then there are the X-rays of Rich and Sharon’s PowerBooks (to prove that putting them through the X-ray machine at the airport is OK), along with an X-ray of Sharon’s metal-reinforced spine. Cute, guys. They also recommend that if you don’t have a protective case for your battery (since a paper clip could theoretically short out a loose battery and cause a fire) you can call Apple for a case, or you can use a sock. It leaves me wondering if their editor didn’t at some time tell them to put a sock in it.

In any event, I’m pleased that Rich and Sharon didn’t clam up after the first edition, since the second edition improves on an already-useful first edition in numerous ways. If you own a PowerBook, sell PowerBooks, or support PowerBooks, you should own a copy of this book. The cover price is a standard $24.95, but for the month of November, you can purchase it from Mac’s Place for $10 (plus $3 shipping). That’s cheap, but if you can’t manage to order in November, I’m sure your friendly local bookstore either has it or can order it.

Mac’s Place — 800/897-0009 — [email protected]

PowerBook: The Digital Nomad’s Guide — As much as I swear by Rich and Sharon’s PowerBook Companion, I also thoroughly enjoyed reading PowerBook: The Digital Nomad’s Guide (Random House Electronic Publishing, ISBN 0-679-74588-2, $24, also available from APS), by Andy Gore and Mitch Ratcliffe, news editors from MacWEEK. Mitch and Andy combined for an extremely readable style that reflects the authors behind the words far more than do most books. The book comes with a disk containing various freeware and shareware applications along with the commercial programs AgentDA (demo), QuicKeys for Nomads, Spiral (demo), Dynodex, and Synchro.

My major quibble with the book is that Mitch and Andy have three terms for different types of PowerBook users – the Intentional Tourist, the Mobile Commuter, and the Road Warrior – each of which uses a PowerBook in different ways. This distinction is not a problem, but using the distinction as a way of organizing the book’s layout and calling out certain issues in sidebars confuses things. PowerBook: The Digital Nomad’s Guide has more information than the PowerBook Companion about using applications on PowerBooks and applications that PowerBook users would be likely to want to use. It also covers communicating via the Internet, which is always nice to see. Overall, it’s a good book and a more engaging read than most Macintosh books, due in large part to both the authors’ stories about using PowerBooks in airports around the world and the brief introduction by Douglas Adams. Perhaps even more interesting is that there is an electronic edition of the book that was published simultaneously. I haven’t seen it, but I wonder how it has done in comparison to the paper version.

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