Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Do You Miss the Missing Manuals?

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WXPNews: Your Source for all things XP
Vol. 8, #57 - Feb 10, 2009 - Issue #365

 Do You Miss the Missing Manuals?

  1. Editor's Corner
    • Do You Miss the Missing Manuals?
    • Follow-up: Beta Talk
    • Quotes of the Week:
  2. Cool Tools
    • Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without
  3. News, Hints, Tips and Tricks
    • 71% of business PCs still running XP
    • Microsoft My Phone service
    • French fighter planes grounded by Conflicker?
    • Tech Support for Sunbelt Software products
  4. How To: Using XP Features
    • How to delete recently used commands from "Run"
  5. XP Security News
    • Four Patches due out this Tuesday
  6. XP Question Corner
    • "Folder Options" Missing in Explorer
  7. XP Configuration and Troubleshooting
    • Menu Bar/Toolbar missing in Windows Explorer and/or IE
  8. Fav Links
    • This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff
  9. Product of the Week
    • DownloadStudio 5.1: The Most Powerful Download Manager Available Today

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 Editor's Corner

Do You Miss the Missing Manuals?

I remember back in the "old days" of computing, when every piece of software I bought came in a big box. In the case of a large program, that box might contain a whole stack of floppy disks. I remember that WordPerfect required six or eight floppies. But along with the program media, you got something else: a fat book that explained how to use the software. Often, these books were hundreds of pages long.

Not that most people read them. In fact, the phrase "RTFM" (Read The Freaking Manual) became a common response to those who asked simplistic questions or described problems that were addressed in the manuals. It was perhaps one of the earliest computer slang abbreviations. Wikipedia even has an entry on it:

There was actually a good reason so many people skipped reading the manuals. Most were written in dry, dull technical language that the average consumer found boring at best, and often unintelligible. It wasn't exactly the type of book you wanted to curl up in bed with - unless you were looking for a soporific (something to put you to sleep). And many were so badly organized that finding the answer to your specific question or problem became an exercise in frustration. Indexes were often either missing or poorly done.

Many computer users suspected that some software vendors deliberately did an awful job with the included manuals in order to entice users to buy additional books about the software (which the vendor or the vendor's partners just happened to have for sale). Another explanation, for those who are less cynical, is that those horrible vendor-provided manuals were written by the software developers. Although they are the ones who know the software best, programming and tech writing are two very different skill sets.

In fact, a person who is an expert at using a particular piece of software may not be the best at explaining the steps of using it. I frequently see "step by step" instructions by experts that leave out important information because the writer is so familiar with the software or with computers that he/she assumes the reader knows more than the average user really does. Sometimes the best "how to" is written by someone who is relatively computer savvy but new enough to the particular software to stumble into a few common "gotchas" along the way - which can then be described, along with how to resolve or circumvent them, in the instructions.

Interestingly, teaching users to use the software isn't the only purpose to which software manuals have been put. At one time, the manuals were often used as a primitive anti-piracy mechanism. After all, the program files could be easily copied but it was unlikely that those with unauthorized copies would also have copies of the fat manual. Scanning 800 pages of manual requires a lot more effort than copying a couple of disks. So software vendors would require that you input unlocking codes based on some obscure reference in the manual (for example, the program might stop working until you typed in the third word in the fifth paragraph on page 602). This was especially popular with game software at one time.

Today, of course, software vendors have more sophisticated anti-piracy technologies that they build into their programs. And many have stopped providing paper manuals altogether. One rationale is that a printed manual adds to the cost, a cost that's generally passed on in one form or another to the customer. Foregoing printed manuals can help vendors keep the cost of their software down. Users who want a book about the software can buy one of the many third party books that are usually available for popular software packages, and those who don't want the book don't have to pay for it.

In fact, this trend has led to a whole series of books by David Pogue called the Missing Manuals. These books cover dozens of subjects, from traditional applications such as PhotoShop, Quicken and Microsoft Office to online services like Wikipedia and Facebook, and even hardware devices such as the iPhone and complex concepts such as home networking. Here's a list of some of the Missing Manuals titles:

Another reason paper manuals have fallen out of favor is the "green" movement. Printed manuals are often referred to as "dead tree manuals" and eliminating the unnecessary use of paper is a major goal of the environmentalist initiatives. Software companies that are making an effort to reduce their impact on the environment find it hard to justify printing up all these fat books that are so often never opened.

But for those who aren't eager to run out and spend another $20 to $50 for the "missing" manual, software vendors provide alternatives to the printed manual, either in the form of Help files within the application, electronic manuals on disc, or both. Help files are usually more interactive, and you may be able to access updated information online through the Help files. Electronic manuals are often in .PDF format and are more like computerized versions of the traditional printed manual (although with some search and hyperlink capability). A common complaint about .PDF manuals is that they're difficult to navigate. On the other hand, .PDFs are designed so that you can easily print them if you really want a paper manual - although by the time you add of the cost of the paper and printer ink, you might have been better off buying a third party book.

Of course, many of us rarely buy software in a retail box anymore. We buy online and download the files over the Internet. We can easily download an electronic manual, and the vendor can save even more money by not having to put the software on physical discs or pay for boxes that will just be thrown away. This trend has also contributed to the demise of the paper manual.

Tell us what you think. Do you miss the "missing manuals" or do you say "good riddance?" Do you find most manuals to be unusable, or do you use them often? Would you prefer to do without a vendor-included manual if that helps keep the cost of the software down, or do you believe hard copy documentation is (or should be) an obligation of anyone who sells software? Do you think software vendors who continue to print fat manuals are being environmentally irresponsible? Do you prefer to use Help files or read .PDF manuals - or do you use both, for different purposes? Or do you assume instructions and explanations that are included with the software are probably outdated anyway, and just turn to the web when you have a question or problem concerning your software? Let us know your opinions at feedback@wxpnews.com

And please take a moment to register your opinions about software manuals by taking our short survey at

Follow-up: Beta Talk

In last week's editorial, I asked readers how they feel about beta software: is the availability of a public beta such as Windows 7 a great opportunity to get a free preview of a not-yet-released program, the chance to help software vendors iron out the bugs and make their product better, or just a scam to get you to do the work that the vendors should be doing themselves? That article drew quite a bit of response, with widely varying opinions.

Some of you are really into betas. Brenda E. wrote: "I love beta testing. I haven't tested an OS yet, but I have been a steady beta tester for an accounting software program for approximately 5 years. As a matter of fact, I loved testing so much that a couple of years ago, I quit my accounting job and took a job as a 'Software QA Engineer', read software tester. I really enjoy everything about testing, from researching the requirements, to writing test cases, writing bug reports and working with the developers to iron out those bugs and then doing it all over again for each new build."

Dennis G. said, "I like testing beta software because it gives me a chance to see the new features that will be in a new version. Most software is complicated enough that it is impossible to test all combination of events that can be thrown at it. As a software developer I realize the importance of having a broad system of users that give their input. A fellow developer has a saying: Software is never having to say you are finished."

And Les C. had this to say: "Your down to earth explanation of beta software is right on. It is software like this that keeps my interest in computers going past the every day tasks that we use them for. I also have been using Windows 7 since it came out and am very pleased with it. I think that Microsoft is doing a much better job of listening to the users and getting a really good product ready for the public."

J.G. feels much the same way: "I've been trying beta OS software from Microsoft since the mid 1990s and enjoy the challenge of finding and reporting bugs. And I've found a lot of them over the years! Windows 7 is the first that has run nearly bug free on my desktop, laptop, and even my Mac Pro. I'm loving it!"

And Don L. put it bluntly: "People that get chosen to beta test a product should be grateful that they get to participate, many users out there would love to be given that chance. So those individuals that constantly whine about bugs in beta software should quit testing and let someone who wants to do it, have a crack at it."

And Bob Y. adds this: "I'm grateful to have the opportunity to try beta software. There is no substitution for having software tested by as many people as possible. The software developers can't think of every possible situation, nor do they have the one 'true' way of presenting solutions. It is a two-way street. Beta testers should take their responsibilities serious and give feedback on things that work, that don't work, and things that could be improved/simplified. Software developers need to get over their 'not invented here' attitude, and if a better idea or suggestion comes in from beta testers, consider it and add/change the final version."

Mike B. said, "I'm a tester. I like getting a shot to play with new toys with no real regrets. I'll put the software on my primary system, but only as a dual boot with proper back-ups. I look at Beta testing as being given a new car that I can beat the crap out of without any major consequences. For those that want to be paid there is something they need to remember. Beta testing is voluntary. Volunteers shouldn't be paid for volunteering."

And David Anthony put it this way: "After all, it is like a trade off. We let you try it for free, you tell us if there is a problem. I know that when I loaded Win 7 I found a bug that would not create the directories for a particular software to install. Did I whine? NO. I expected there to be bugs." And Mark N. said, "What I hate are people that try the beta, like it, and when the actual product comes out, the complain like hell and never wrote anything to the software vendor, this is poor behavior of wanting a perfect product, but never give any feedback before it got too far."

Mike S. expressed mixed feelings: "I've been running betas for years (about 18) and, yes, it does sometimes feel that you are doing their work for free but, at the end of the day, this is my choice and I choose to do it simply because it helps my job (and I can talk to prospects about running a particular application on beta software - which helps enormously as they then know we are always looking out for their interests whilst moving forward). I fully participate in bug reporting, scenario testing etc. and report back - otherwise, my efforts will have been wasted and that's just a waste of time all round. I also like to be on the bleeding edge - so, yep, unfortunately I do rush to download most of the well-known betas!"

On the other hand, some folks stay far away from beta software. Kenneth F. wrote, "I have never used beta versions of any software, and this is for the reason that I don't have spare computers for doing so. I need this thing that's on my desk, and I don't want to encounter any more risk than necessary." And Dave R. agrees: "I have never installed Beta software. I always wait for others to work out the bugs and the release to come."

And some of you have used betas in the past but now choose not to. Charles wrote: "When I was a computing consultant and had to be more than up to date, I installed betas. Now I am retired I am delighted to run back-level software with most of the bugs fixed and a big knowledge base. 'To boldly go' may be exciting but it's painful and takes time I'd rather spend on other things." And Mike H. said, "I used to do 4-5 betas per year, but only do 1 every year or so now. So many people are doing them that my input doesn't matter as much, and I got tired of sending reports to Microsoft that were apparently ignored as the release software still had the problems. I have better uses for my time!"

Some of you would like to get something more for your beta testing efforts. One reader wrote: "I think betas are cool, but I agree that the software publishers are getting a freebie. In exchange for testing their software, they should at least consider throwing out a discount on the finished product." And Hugh O. said, "Beta Software is unpaid work as it stands and reflects badly on software companies like Microsoft and Adobe."

And John Q. said, "As for a payment, MS used to give us a free copy or two of the software, now we might get that if we are in the top testers, but other than that we really don't get the compensation. This is specifically why I think Win ME, was as bad as it was, and why some of the issues with Vista were never found."

Finally, Dan R. offered a perspective that many of us might not have considered: "I am a blind computer user. I use a screen reader. The primary screen reader I use has to tap directly in to the video so that I can get accurate speech, mouse movement simulation etc. Well, as you have probably figured out, it's doing a lot to interrupt the normal flow of things. So, sometimes, putting unknown beta software on a computer using a screen reader can give results that others may not get. Therefore, I think it's quite important for screen reader users to thoroughly test betas. If there is an accessibility problem, it's best to let the company know while the software is still in beta. This is especially true for an OS like windows 7. Once the software is released, the nagging accessibility issues may linger until the next major release or even forever! However, having said that, obviously, for a screen reader user, the risk also goes up. If something major goes wrong, sighted assistance may be required to get the computer going again, For me, the risk is the fun part."

Thanks to all of you who wrote on this topic!

'Til next week,
Deb Shinder, Editor

PS: Did you know this newsletter has a sister publication called VistaNews? You can subscribe here, and tell your friends:

And for IT pros, there's our "big sister," WServer News, at

Quotes of the Week:

The shortest distance between two points is ... under construction. - Noelie Altito

The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do. - Walter Bagehot

The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one. - Elbert Hubbard

My Antivirus Is Killing My Netbook - Now What?

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 Cool Tools

Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without


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 News, Hints, Tips and Tricks

71% of business PCs still running XP

Tech pundits may be feeling the love for still-in-beta Windows 7, and Vista may be starting to gain some market share after 2 years, especially among home users, but Mary Jo Foley reports that a Forrester study is showing that more than 70 percent of the PCs in U.S. and European companies are still running XP, with only 10 percent using Vista (another 10 percent haven't yet upgraded from Windows 2000, and Mac and Linux both come in with low single digit numbers. See the details here:

Microsoft My Phone service

Last week, news of a new Microsoft "cloud" service leaked out when its web site inadvertently went live ahead of time. The service, which is being called both Skybox and My Phone, is designed to allow you to back up information on your mobile phone to the web, access contact and scheduling info and share photos. You can read more about it here:

French fighter planes grounded by Conflicker?

There's been a lot of news around the Conflicker virus lately, even though Microsoft released a patch for it some time back. It seems not everyone is keeping their systems up to date - and that apparently includes the French military. Reports are all over the web, saying that some of their fighter planes have been grounded because of the problem. Read about it here:

Tech Support for Sunbelt Software products

Every week, I get several email messages from readers writing to the feedback address, seeking technical support for VIPRE, CounterSpy and other Sunbelt products. Sometimes we answer these questions in the Question Corner, but often they're the same questions or they're very configuration-specific. Besides, we get hundreds of feedback messages each week. The quickest and best way to ensure that your problem doesn't get lost in that deluge and get your tech support questions answered is to either write to support@sunbeltsoftware.com or fill out a support web form at

 How To: Using XP Features

How to delete recently used commands from "Run"

The "Run" box in XP remembers the commands you've typed there recently, and that can be handy - however, for security's sake, you might not want to have them display. Here's how to get rid of them:
  1. Open the registry editor and navigate to the following key:
    HKEY_CURRENT_USER \ Software \ Microsoft \ Windows \ CurrentVersion \ Explorer \ RunMRU
  2. In the right pane, you'll see your recently used commands. You can delete any or all of them (right click and select Delete).
If you'd rather not edit the registry, there's another way:
  1. Right click the Taskbar and select Properties.
  2. On the Start Menu tab, click Classic Start Menu.
  3. Click the Customize button.
  4. Click the Clear button.
Note that this second method clears all of the commands, as well as recent applications and documents from the Start menu. To do it selective, use the first method.

 XP Security News

Four Patches due out this Tuesday

It's that time again: Patch Tuesday falls on February 10th, and Microsoft's early Valentine's Day gift to users consists of four security updates. Two are critical, and they affect Windows XP and IE 7, along with several other products. Read about it here:

 XP Question Corner

"Folder Options" Missing in Explorer

I'm running Windows XP Pro with SP3 preloaded. I do not have "Folder Options" in the Control Panel nor could I find it in My Computer from the Start Menu as you suggested in your recent comment re "single click" file opening. "Tools" on the Windows Explorer task bar does not include 'View'. I want to have file extensions included in the filenames in Explorer but cannot find any other way to do it. Can I get "Folder Options" back in business? - H.N.R.

It sometimes happens that the "Folder Options" choice is missing in Explorer. Try this to restore it if you have XP Pro:
  1. Click Start | Run
  2. Type gpedit.msc
  3. In the Group Policy Editor, in the left pane navigate to User Configuration | Administrative Templates | Windows Components | Windows Explorer
  4. In the right pane, enable and then disable the item "Removes Folder Options menu from Tools menu"
  5. Close all Explorer windows, then reopen.
If this doesn't restore the Folder Options, there is a registry file you can run for that purpose. Go to this web site and scroll down to number 129, "Restore Folder Options Under Tools."

Be sure you are using the right sequence to get to it: In My Computer or Windows Explorer (not Internet Explorer), click Tools on the menu bar, then Folder Options, then the View tab. For a step-by-step with screenshots, see:

 XP Configuration and Troubleshooting

Menu Bar/Toolbar missing in Windows Explorer and/or IE

If you open either the Windows Explorer or IE in XP and find that the menu bar and/or the toolbar is missing, it may be due to a corrupt registry value. You can fix the problem by editing the registry, but this will undo any customization you may have made to the toolbar. For step by step instructions, see KB article 555130 at

 Fav Links

This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff

Disclaimer: WXPNews does not assume and cannot be responsible for any liability related to you clicking any of these linked Web sites.

 Product of the Week

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 About WXPnews

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These documents are provided for informational purposes only. The information contained in this document represents the current view of Sunbelt Software on the issues discussed as of the date of publication. Because Sunbelt must respond to changes in market conditions, it should not be interpreted to be a commitment on the part of Sunbelt and Sunbelt cannot guarantee the accuracy of any information presented after the date of publication.


This newsletter and website and may contain links to other websites with whom we have a business relationship. Sunbelt Software does not review or screen these sites, and we are not responsible or liable for their privacy or data security practices, or the content of these sites. Additionally, if you register with any of these sites, any information that you provide in the process of registration, such as your email address, credit card number or other personally identifiable information, will be transferred to these sites. For these reasons, you should be careful to review any privacy and data security policies posted on any of these sites before providing information to them.

The user assumes the entire risk as to the accuracy and the use of this document. This document may be copied and distributed subject to the following conditions: 1) All text must be copied without modification and all pages must be included; 2) All copies must contain Sunbelt's copyright notice and any other notices provided therein; and 3) This document may not be distributed for profit. All trademarks acknowledged. Copyright Sunbelt Software, Inc. 1996-2009.

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