Publisher: O'Reilly & Associates
With the "Hacks" series of books, the people at O'Reilly wanted to provide something that the was missing in the world of computer books. I'm talking about a collection of practical hacks (could also be called tips) that show the reader how to do something new or accomplish a task quicker. This is one of those books that can be read from cover to cover or you can just read specific parts as you need them.
This time I'm taking a look at some cool things that can be accomplished in Windows XP, probably the most popular operating system for home users at the moment.
About the author
Preston Gralla, the author of more than 20 books, is also a freelance journalist and columnist. He has written for major national newspapers and magazines, including PC Magazine, Computerworld, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today and several others. A well-known technology expert, Preston has also appeared on many TV and radio programs and networks, including CNN, MSNBC and NPR. In addition, he's won a number of awards for his writing, including for "Best Feature in a Computer Magazine" from the Computer Press Association.
Inside the book
Gralla starts at the very beginning by writing about the startup and shutdown of Windows XP. Addressed here are some things that will make your working experience much more pleasant. The author shows you how to speed up boot and shutdown times, halt startup programs and services, control user logins, and more. Since many of us are using more than one operating system, I found the customizing multiboot startup options hack really helpful as it's quite detailed.
The Graphical User Interface (GUI) that Microsoft introduced with Windows XP was accepted well by new users but it annoyed the majority of the power users. Everyone likes to customize their OS and with this book you'll be able to customize basically everything. Gralla teaches you how to hack the control panel, rename and change apparently unchangeable desktop icons and system objects, create transparent windows, etc. Some hacks are explained with the aid of third-party tools, links to which are also provided.
The author moves on to give you insight into something you use every day - the Windows Explorer. The 12 hacks present in this chapter give you more control over Windows Explorer and show you how you can do stuff you've never thought was possible. The author guides you through the hiding of folders and files with the Encrypting File System (EFS), obtaining more disk space with compression, etc. As with the rest of the book, this part is filled with a myriad of screenshots that will certainly aid you in understanding the presented material.
The percentage of people using the Internet is growing on a daily basis so no wonder Gralla decided to insert a chapter about the Web in this book. Here you learn how to protect yourself from spyware, modify Internet Explorer properties with the Group Policy Editor, surf anonymously, and much more. Closely related to this chapter is the following that deals with networking hacks. Wireless enthusiasts will be pleased to find a bit of information on wardriving and security conscious users will applaud the explanation on how to test your Windows XP security, use the Internet Connection Firewall (ICF) and fix Media Player's privacy problems. Many of you are using a broadband Internet connection so you'll benefit from learning how to optimize your residential gateway and troubleshooting your network connections.
The most used method of online communication must be e-mail. You are using it several times a day despite growing problems like spam. Gralla provides tips on how to reduce spam as well as several tips related to Microsoft Outlook before moving to discuss the Registry. You are introduced to the Registry and then you learn a bunch of useful hacks as well as how to perform Registry backups.
Next the author writes about many utilities and applications and how you can make your life easier by using them properly. A plethora of material is covered and many insightful hacks are provided as you discover how to speed up your hard drive, build a proper backup strategy, uninstall programs, track system performance, etc. In case something goes wrong you'll be ready as Gralla teaches you how to use the Recovery Console.
Many users are not very keen when it comes to tweaking hardware in their boxes. The author brings hardware closer to the average user as he describes troubleshooting by decoding device manager error messages, shows you how to setup a direct cable connection with another computer, and more.
My 2 cents
This is probably the single most valuable book about Windows XP you'll ever come across. If you're a complete novice to this version of Windows, you'll have to get more reading material aimed at new users first, but once you get a grip on the basics, this book will open a whole new world of possibilities.
The author managed to condense some of the best tips I've come across and no, you can't find them all online. "Windows XP Hacks" will enable you to get the most out of your XP box and pretty quickly too, since the organization and cross-referencing of the hacks is excellent. All in all, a great reference guide and learning tool.
O'Reilly strikes again with another impressive title that deserves a place on your bookshelf. Go and get it now, it's well worth the price.