All those email questions in a nutshell

 

Internet Email for Dummies by John Levine, Carol Baroudi, Margaret Levine Young and Arnold Reinhold IDGBooks £23.99 in UK

THIS "dummies guide" ought to answer most ordinary users' questions about using electronicmail, from etiquette and how to find someone's email address (sensibly, they say the most reliable, easiest way is to ask them!) to introducing email in an office context, and whether and how to attach documents. It even makes sense of encryption methods, and has interesting mailing lists and plenty of glossaries.

The only weaknesses are the usual "dummies" ones. It's aimed at a purely US market (what about versions for The Rest Of The World?), around a third of its content is about email programs you won't be using, or online services which aren't major players in Ireland (e.g. America Online), and you'd wonder why a mere fraction of the "bonus" CD Rom is actually used. On top of which, if you have an Internet account you probably already have all the cover disc's software and more.

Apart from these provisos, the book's scope is admirably wide without losing too much depth and it lives up to IDG's high standard of very clearly written prose. Fairly ideal for most first timers.

Monster Truck Madness,

Microsoft, PC, £45

FOR some time after it was announced Microsoft's promise to become a major games producer rang hollow. Although its Flight Simulator series bad singlehandedly made it one of the world's biggest games sellers its other titles did not evoke the excitement of Doom or X Wink. That is set to change, with a strong line of games out for the Christmas market.

Those who like racing games - not by any means all gamers - should find this one great fun. The usual squashed looking racing car is replaced by a big wheel pickup, and the potentially tedious round of racetrack courses by the addition of an off road cross country landscape. This gives lots of scope to Microsoft's Direct 3D technique for producing rich landscapes and detailed objects.

As well as the usual options of choice of truck, course and level of difficulty there is a great range of view positions for watching your truck careering around - or (quite often) tumbling into a dune. Again, the visuals are good, provided the PC specification is up to it. Multiple players can race against each other over a local area network, a modem connection or the Internet. The sound effects are excellent, especially the raving commentator who follows the action and stokes the atmosphere.

Deadly Tide, Microsoft, PC,

£45

JUST over 10 years ago, the owners of the Sinclair Spectrum were offered a bargain. For little more than the price of one game they could buy 10 and support Soft Aid, the computer game branch of Bob Geldof's Band Aid appeal for Ethiopia. The 10 games came on an audio cassette, to be buzzed laboriously in through the Spectrum's tape recorder socket, and the whole lot came to a few hundred kilobytes of data. It was great.

Deadly Tide - as much as any set of industry statistics - shows just how far personal computing has come in that decade. Instead of 10 games on one cassette there is a single extravaganza spread over four CD Roms. About two gigabytes of data to make one modern game. The visual detail, sound and complexity that Deadly Tide puts on a home PC were unimaginable back in 1985.

In outline, the scenario is simple enough. Aliens have come to earth and taken over the oceans. As a hydrofighter pilot you go out to blast em up as comprehensively as possible.

Only the basic scenario is simple, however, as the game moves through a dizzying array of locations and visuals. Microsoft says it took "a team of top Hollywood designers, who do the graphics for the StarTrek: Next Generation and Sea quest TV shows" to come up with it. The result is a cohesive look and feel of underwater combat and a huge level of detail.

Its sheer size ensures that players will not get through Deadly Tide in an afternoon. There is lots of action, a detailed soundtrack and lots (too much?) of the film quality cut scenes" that are used as transitions between sections. So, rich as Deadly Tide is, why is there still a yearning for Ant Attack on the 48K Spectrum?

Side Winder game pad,

Microsoft, PC, £40

LIGHT in the hand, but solid, this game pad feels good to use. It has an eight position keypad, six buttons and two triggers to control most games capable of running under Windows 95.

The pad can be programmed to carry out several functions on a single button and comes with a CD Rom that checks the PC for the latest versions of Microsoft's evolving DirectX games software. The disk also contains utilities and a couple of demo games. For those with the need (and the money), up to four game pads can be connected together for multi player games.

JavaScript: The Definitive Guide, David Flanagan, O'Reilly & Assoc, 454pp, £22.00 in UK

WHAT is the budding Web programmer to do nowadays? Learn Java and embed some neat applets in your HTML? Do some cool serverside processing with CGI and Perl? Read this book and come to terms with Netscape's JavaScriot, which has both client and server sides and can interact with both CGI and Java? As Flanagan says, somewhat despairingly, the pace of the Web's technical innovation has shot through the roof.

The book is a "beta edition" (for Netscape 2.0 and 3.0 up to 3.0B6), produced under severe deadline pressure. Flanagan plans a sequel to cover the final, stable version of JavaScript in Navigator 3.0. In the meantime, he describes JavaScript as a programming language, then explains how it works its magic when embedded in HTML files.

Two simple examples off JavaScript in action motivate the reader to plough through the extensive language reference guide; more examples are needed. As the author plans to remedy the omission of server side JavaScript in the next (no longer beta!) edition, he may need two books - an example driven guide and a complete technical reference.

The enthusiastic blurb describes JavaScript as a simple scripting language directly embedded in HTML Web pages - it isn't! It requires, as the author indeed stresses, sophisticated programming skills.