This is your PalmPilot speaking
Palm Pilot: the Ultimate Guide, David Pogue, O'Reilly, £21.95)
For such a humble tool, the 3Com PalmPilot has provoked a rich response both among those who use it and those who don't. Members of the latter group, led by the ever-hungry Microsoft, have been straining their product design capabilities to come up with something to match the PalmPilot's ability to provide simple and efficient PC functionality in a hand-held device.
The Pilot's success lies in its friendly user interface, the range of its functions, its ability to synchronise data quickly and efficiently with PCs and, of course, its small size. This 489-page tome is aptly titled; I can't, however, believe that most people will require or want more than a fraction of the information outlined. For those who do, the contents are laid out logically and concisely. The first section deals with the basics, then, in turn, how the Pilot works with PCs, the wider uses such as reading books and drawing pictures on its small screen, how it handles email and, finally, a handy guide to troubleshooting and upgrading.
There is of course an irony in producing such a comprehensive tome for what is a simple piece of equipment, but there is a growing cult of enthusiasts who are stretching the Pilot's functionality via a range of cheap programs. As Pogue says in the introduction: "Taking your PalmPilot further, that's what this book is about." If you feel so inclined then this is your roadmap.
Word 97 Spoken Word Computer Training, Zain Media, £9.99.
It's a good idea - computer training courses on audio CDs. There are none of the fancy graphics, animations or test-yourself features which are intended to clarify things but often seem daunting to beginners. Also, these features require installation and just installing them ("this software requires a 256-colour palette, please reset your display", for example) can stop the training session before it starts.
Instead, the CD-Rom is played on the computer's sound system, or on a normal CD player. Like a helpful friend, it talks the user through the features of Word 97 from the most basic to fairly advanced. The 70-minute disk is broken into 96 short lessons. Being on CD rather than tape, it is easy to pause or to repeat a lesson, or to jump to a particular section.
The tutorials are good, with relaxing background music, clear instructions and British rather than US voices. One stumbling block at the beginning is that the steps from the Start button to Word itself may not be the same on all computers. Also, the user does need to quickly learn the Windows 95 jargon: dialogue box, drop-down menu, and the rest of it. But there is another CD in the series for just this purpose. - info: www.zainmedia.com
Fiachra O Marcaigh
HTML 4 Bible, Brian Pfaffenberger and Alexis D. Gutzman, IDG Books, 904pp, £42.99
There are lots of technical "bibles" about. They are far more numerous than the tools and techniques they cover, and each implies that it is the last word on the subject: revealed truth, holy writ. This one, however, lives up to the claim better than most.
Between two (widely separated) covers, it provides a comprehensive overview of the assortment of standards, wannabe-standards and maverick innovations which can loosely be called HTML 4. The original elegant simplicity of HTML has long since given way to a Babel of rival tags and techniques, mostly aimed at making the Web more exciting. (As a side-effect, it has also become much slower and very confusing for developers.)
There are repeated warnings that this or that nifty new feature will not work with some, most, or even any browser currently available. Nevertheless, it brings together clear explanations of basic methods, plus tips and tricks for making use of the most current innovations. A bundled CD-ROM includes sample code and trial versions of several popular tools. This is a good book, even if it won't stay current as long as The Good Book.