A little about Photoshop, a lot about bad manualsI have several books of this type in my collection, and can say without hesitation that most of them are junk.
Why a review here of a technical book on a very complicated software program? In short, this review lets me rant about the low quality of many similar books.
Photoshop is used by our designers at the newspaper, and they do some interesting things with it. The program is aimed at professionals, though; the price tag would make most buyers gulp.
The book itself carries a hefty price tag as well ― as do most of the “how-to” computer program manuals. The genre exists mostly because software manufacturers have abdicated their responsibility to provide good documentation. Long gone are the three looseleaf binders of documentation that accompanied my IBM PC Jr. in the mid-1980s.
These manuals seem to be priced by the pound, and this one is no exception. It is filled with screen shots of menus, which you probably can see on the computer screen in front of you. Those shots add considerably to the book’s heft.
Because most of these books are issued when there is a new upgrade of the software, only when the new version is a radical departure would the new manual involve enough rewriting to justify the prices. That rarely happens.
But there is another problem with many of these books: They often spend dozens of pages explaining the intricacies of irrelevant parts of the program.
An exaggeration? Well, I have a dusty tome on Windows 98 on my shelf; it has an entire chapter on how to play solitaire. The justification given was that playing solitaire is a good way to develop skills in using a mouse.
A couple of Linux books I was foolish enough to invest in tell you in detail how to use a Web browser, for example. I wonder how many people new to Linux are also new to computing. Almost none, I would suspect.
But among the dross, “Photoshop 7 Bible” does stand out. It covers all the essential elements of a very complicated software package, and was written clearly enough to allow me to read and understand it at night at home without having the program running in front of me. McClelland’s examples of ways you can manipulate photographs are interesting, even if the results seem to be nothing that any art director would be interested in. He clearly explains the techniques he used to create those examples.
But in general, I would suggest that someone with new software first just play around with it and rely on the help files in the program. After you develop some familiarity with the program, then, and only then, browse through some of the manuals available for the software. Look in the index for subjects you don’t understand. If all are covered, and if the bulk of the book doesn’t go over things you’ve already managed to figure out for yourself, the tome may be worth the price.
If you don’t know how to play computer solitaire, I have a cheap used book for you.
Photoshop 7 Bible
by Deke McClelland
Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2002
Kyobo price: 43,000 won
by John Hoog