As I noted briefly in a few previous TidBITS issues, the fourth edition of Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh (ISBN 1-56830-294-0, Hayden Books, $39.99) is available and should be appearing in bookstores now. Whenever I finish a new edition of the book, people always ask what’s different from the previous editions, so I’ll cover that below.
First, however, I want to explain why I write about new editions of the Internet Starter Kit, since some people feel these articles are inappropriate for TidBITS. The simple fact is that royalties from these books (there have been a variety of spin-offs, including translations into Japanese and German) make it financially possible to operate TidBITS as we do. In addition, I think Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh is a good book that can help many people who either want to get on the Internet, want to learn more about it, or want to provide a reference for a friend or family member. For me, the goal of writing is to help people; if no one buys the book, it hasn’t helped anyone.
All that said, let’s look at what’s different from the third edition. The simple answer is that just about everything has changed to accommodate the ways in which the Internet has changed over the last few years.
Easier Connections — The most common criticism of the book that I hear is that it’s too big. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for this complaint, since the book is obviously large and I’m comfortable that everything in the book is useful. However, in previous editions, the size meant that finding the information you needed to connect to the Internet was difficult. For the fourth edition, I grouped the connection chapters at the beginning of the book, and there’s even a gray bleed on those pages so you can look at the page edges and see how little of the book you have to read to establish a connection. Those first chapters discuss requirements, choosing an Internet provider, the contents of the Internet Starter Kit CD-ROM (and how to use installer), plus provide a set of step-by-step instructions for using the main Internet programs. Finally, although I hope everyone can skip it, I included a chapter of extensive troubleshooting information for those who have trouble connecting.
Getting connected to the Internet is handled by a pair of programs, the Internet Starter Kit Installer and the Internet Configurator. The installer works much as previous editions did, but you can now run the Internet Configurator to configure all of the installed software for any one of over 340 Internet providers around the world. And (although you can never be sure), since these providers all signed themselves up for inclusion with the book, there’s a good chance that they’re more Macintosh-savvy than average.
What’s Installed — The main difference in the installer is that it installs Microsoft Internet Explorer (MIE) instead of the now-moribund MacWeb. Many people ask why I included MIE and not Netscape Navigator. There are two simple reasons. First, MIE is a good Web browser that requires less RAM than Netscape Navigator. Second, MIE was free, whereas licensing Netscape Navigator would have cost so much that it would have added a significant amount to the price of the book. And of course, anyone who wants to evaluate Netscape Navigator can do so for free by downloading the version of the week.
The installer also installs FreePPP 2.5 instead of MacPPP 2.0.1, and everything works fine with either Open Transport 1.1 or MacTCP 2.0.6 (which is also installed). The installer does not install Open Transport 1.1, but System 7.5 Update 2.0 and System 7.5.3 Revision 2.0 are both included on the Internet Starter Kit CD-ROM, so if you have System 7.5, you can update to System 7.5.3 and use Open Transport if you want. Rounding out the list of the installed programs are the usual suspects, Anarchie 1.6, Eudora Light 1.5.4, Internet Config 1.2, and StuffIt Expander 4.0.1. They’re all essential, in my opinion.
Internet Starter Kit CD-ROM — Since Internet software is getting bigger, I couldn’t include even the basics on a single floppy disk. Once you have to bundle more than one floppy with a book, though, it’s cheaper to produce a CD-ROM, so I did. Along with the installer, the Internet Configurator, and Apple’s system updates, I included over 300 MB of Internet-related software. There’s no way I could list it all here, but suffice it to say that there are about 250 programs, including things from Apple like Cyberdog and OpenDoc, and it took me a heck of a long time to download it all so you don’t have to. Everything is uncompressed and neatly organized, and yes, I even did things like regularize all the window positions. Making CD-ROMs is hard work.
Along with all the freeware, shareware, and demo software on the CD-ROM are more than 650 bookmarks to all the Web sites, FTP sites, and Usenet newsgroups mentioned in the book. Typing URLs is a major drag, so I’ve included these bookmarks (organized by chapter) as an MIE Favorites file, a Netscape Bookmarks file, as individual CyberFinder files (and as a CyberFinder library), as a DragNet file, URL Clerk files, a URL Manager file, a Web Squirrel file, and a WebArranger file. Of course, versions or demos of all those bookmark managers are available as well. I don’t intend to keep this list of sites up to date, since that would be a ton of work, but I will post it to the Web soon.
Online Components — As usual, there’s a Web page for readers of the book, but anyone is welcome to use it. I collected what I consider to be the best sites for searching the Internet and a small collection of the best Macintosh sites, and listed them all on a concise Web page. It makes a great home page.
Although they haven’t changed much, I’m also still maintaining several other pages related to the book, including a Macintosh Internet Software Updates page (and ancillary table) and a Macintosh Modem Init Strings page, both of which are linked on the main page above.
New Chapters & Organization — Probably the most significant changes from the previous edition are in the number of new chapters that I wrote and the almost complete reorganization of the book. It starts, as I noted, with a section containing the information you need to get connected quickly. After that, I step back in the second section and look at what the Internet is, where it came from, where it’s going in the future, and some of the technical background that’s necessary (things like file formats and URLs). Those chapters are pretty much the same as in the third edition, although the chapter on past, present, and future has been beefed up significantly to address present and future issues related to the Internet (things like Internet commerce, governmental control, privacy, pornography, and free speech).
The third section holds the meat of the book. First comes a chapter explaining Open Transport and MacTCP in great detail, followed by a chapter looking carefully at FreePPP and mentioning all the other PPP and SLIP implementations. Then come what I consider to be the four main chapters, which cover email, Usenet news, FTP, and the Web. Each of those starts by explaining its respective Internet service, covers usage and social issues, and talks about how each one actually works. Each chapter then moves into reviews, with long reviews of the two main programs in each category and short capsule reviews of others, and finishes with troubleshooting information in Q & A format. The two remaining chapters in the third section (Real-Time Communications and Utilities and Miscellany) are similar, although they use capsule reviews throughout, other than a full review of Internet Config. The final chapter in the third section is the odd chapter out, since it covers the Internet features of America Online and CompuServe.
The book’s fourth section is almost entirely new. Chapter 20 helps novices learn how to find things on the Internet, and ends with scavenger hunt questions (and answers, with techniques explained) that I’m quite proud of. In the following chapter, I essentially used my searching techniques to find and list the most useful Macintosh Internet resources, figuring that the Mac is one thing everyone who reads the book will have in common.
The final two chapters in the fourth section are the most optional, although I expect they’ll prove quite popular. First comes Tonya’s HTML chapter, which she expanded significantly to include information on things like tables, forms, and other HTML design capabilities. It’s the best discussion of HTML that I’ve seen that’s specific for Macintosh users. After that comes a completely new chapter I wrote about setting up Internet servers on Macs. That chapter isn’t a how-to guide, but is meant to provide readers with the background necessary to decide if they want to set up Macintosh Internet servers. It also lists all the Internet server software available for the Mac, including every Web CGI that I could find, since I’d been frustrated when I tried to figure out what CGIs were available for handling forms, for instance. Much of the Internet server software is available on the CD-ROM.
In the End — Frankly, I think this is one heck of a book. The previous editions were certainly good, but I put more work into this update than into any previous edition, including the first. If you bought any previous edition and still use it, consider donating that edition to a friend, relative, school, or library, and pick up the fourth edition. I’m of course utterly biased, but I also have a pretty good idea of what’s out there, and Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh, Fourth Edition is the most complete Internet solution available for the Mac. Apple’s Internet Connection Kit may be bundled with every Mac and retail copy of System 7.5.3 (which makes it hard to compete with) but it only works with a couple of Internet providers, doesn’t include nearly as much software, and lacks an 880-page book explaining the Internet and what happens when things don’t work the way they should.
Bookstores have started to receive the fourth edition, to judge from reports on the net. If you’re interested, I recommend your favorite local bookstore as the first approach. If they don’t have it, please ask them to get it. (One of the generally unknown aspects of the book industry is that it doesn’t matter how good a book may be – if the bookstores don’t carry it, it won’t sell well.) Alternately, if there’s no bookstore handy, you can order online directly from Macmillan Computer Publishing or from online bookstores like WordsWorth and Amazon (and I’m sure there are other great ones as well).
Finally, the online version of the third edition is still available, and we’re working on converting the fourth edition to HTML. I’ll announce it when it’s available.