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POSTCARD FROM CYBERSPACE / DANIEL AKST

A Guide to the Voluminous Internet How-To Library

March 08, 1995|DANIEL AKST | Daniel Akst, a Los Angeles writer, is a former assistant business editor for technology at The Times

There are now so many Internet books in my home office that no light reaches my desk. The piles leave only a shallow crawl space along the top, and I've had to have the floor reinforced to support the load. My mailman got a hernia. City officials have posted avalanche warnings.

OK, I exaggerate. But I am the proud owner of nearly 100 pounds of cyberspace books, and this is only a small sample. At Opamp Technical Books here in Hollywood, the local mecca for such reading matter, I measured 16 feet of Internet books on one shelf, eight or 10 on the shelf above that, and untold shelf-feet in the Internet-for-Macs section.

Faced with this deluge, one's first impulse is to flee. Who can sort through all this stuff? Aren't Internet books obsolete by the time they're printed? Besides, you're supposed to find information about the Internet on the Internet, as any red-blooded geek will tell you. Books? Books!? I don't need no stinking books!

But this is all posturing. I often use Internet books. Moreover, readers often send me e-mail with questions I can't possibly answer in a quick reply, or even in a newspaper column. So here are a few books you might find useful.

If you want to get on-line but barely know where to begin, go out and get "Modems for Dummies" by Tina Rathbone (IDG Books, $19.99) or "The Little Online Book" by Alfred Glossbrenner (Peachpit Press, $17.95).

"Modems for Dummies" makes plain why the "for Dummies" series of computer books is so insanely successful. These funny volumes are so full of good information that I often find myself recommending them. True to form, "Modems" had me ROTFL (see p. 386), yet it also offers a solid introduction to modems, BBSes, on-line services, the Internet and more. Like all Dummies books, this one is a much-imitated model of good design.

If Rathbone is the Letterman of such introductory authors, Glossbrenner is perhaps Mr. Rogers. But despite my initial leeriness of the sprouts-and-Birkenstocks title and illustrations, he has produced a marvelous book. Although not as deep on the Internet and modems, he seems to know the on-line services a little better. And, boy, is he sensible. Where Rathbone prefers internal modems--and actually shows you how to install one!--Glossbrenner prefers external. (Full disclosure: I have two internal modems. And, hey, Tina, what's the matter with com 4?)

If you want to become a real on-line maven without slighting the amazing world of bulletin boards, FidoNet and so forth, find a copy of Bernard Aboba's "Online User's Encyclopedia" (Addison-Wesley, $34.95). True modem freaks will want Gilbert Held's scary "Complete Modem Reference" (John Wiley & Sons, $34.95).

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Headed for the Internet? "The Internet for Dummies" is OK, but apparently its authors fell into the clutches of evil space aliens who sucked out their brainpans, because they don't tell you how to use Pine to get Internet e-mail.

Let met suggest an alternative from Addison-Wesley. "The Instant Internet Guide," by Brent Heslop and David Angell ($14.95), is just about the best and most concise Internet introduction and handbook I have ever seen. This pocket-sized marvel covers all the bases and tells you in plain English how to do the things you really need to do, rather than how to use the Internet to iron your shirts and leap tall buildings in a single bound.

The full-blown how-to category offers a staggering array of choices, and you couldn't pay me enough to read them all. But the one I turn to first is Paul Gilster's "The Internet Navigator" (John Wiley & Sons, $24.95). Gilster writes well, has personality and seems to know practically everything about the Internet. Convenient sidebars tell you where to get essential resources.

For more ambitious users who want the whole story down to the packet level, I can recommend two good books. Ed Krol's classic "The Whole Internet User's Guide & Catalog" (O'Reilly & Associates, $24.95) covers much the same ground as Gilster, but in greater depth and breadth. Daniel Dern's "The Internet Guide for New Users" (McGraw-Hill, $27.95) is so thorough that it's really better for someone with a little experience, in my view. Also, this otherwise good book is marred by poor design and dense type.

For sheer mind-boggling comprehensiveness, it's hard to beat "The Internet Unleashed" (Sams Publishing, $44.95 including software). This massive work deals with everything from managing Internet security, connecting a local area network, accessing the Net via ISDN, to running a listserv and so forth, in addition to the usual gopher, telnet and ftp. Advanced users might also consider "Tricks of the Internet Gurus," another massive group effort from Sams ($35). It really does contain some guru stuff.

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