Joseph Moran and Kevin Otnes are both writers who have a long history in technical documentation and other tech-related endeavours. In this interview, we get to know Kevin and Joseph and then I’ll share a little about their book “Getting StartED Windows 7” (Amazon)
Interview with Joseph Moran & Kevin Otnes
RICH: Joe, you say you like to play Tennis; what else do you like to do outside of the world of computers?
JOE: I’m a big movie fan, though considering the way I watch most of them– on Blu-Ray disc or via digital download– I guess that barely qualifies as outside the realm of computers. Considering how much time I spend seated in front of glowing screens, I do try to get outdoors as often as possible– biking is another activity I’ve recently rediscovered (though with a GPS mounted to the handlebars, even that isn’t quite computer-free!).
RICH: Kevin, you have an extensive history with writing; what else do you like to do?
KEVIN: I have several hobbies and interests outside of computers and writing, such as woodworking, playing the guitar, raising tropical fish, and Mission/ Arts & Crafts/Craftsman furniture. I’ve done woodworking almost as long as I’ve been using computers. I got hooked on the New Yankee Workshop and made several Shaker tables, and about ten Adirondack chairs. I’ve also made various cabinets, bookcases, and aquarium stands. I love the smell of fresh sawdust in the morning. I’ve always wanted to build a guitar. For Christmas I got a kit for building a solid body electric guitar.
Yet all of those interests outside of computers point back to computers, especially the Internet. How did we live without the Internet? For woodworking, I use the web to order tools and supplies, read and find solutions to woodworking challenges on user forums, and get inspiration from other people’s creations. For awhile, I was really into raising Discus, the “King of tropical fish.” There are several great Discus forums which helped me get a handle on the proper care of Discus. Because Discus can be tricky to keep, many pet stores do not carry them. If you’ve never seen a Discus, or have only seen a few in the pet store, go to Discus as a Hobby, discusasahobby.com. Discus breeders and hobbyists love to share pictures of their fish. The web is also great for guitarists, even amateurs like me. You can order sheet music and song books; find sites with lyrics and chords for songs; and find luthiers who sell guitar kits, like Luthiers Mercantile International, lmii.com, Stewart-MacDonald, stewmac.com . My electric guitar kit came from Grizzly Woodworking, grizzly.com.
Your computer does not have to be the center of your life—put it to work to serve your real interests, hobbies and needs.
RICH: You wrote for Microsoft; what was your favorite part of working for the company?
KEVIN: I enjoyed the privilege of working with really great, smart people to develop and release really great products—editors and fellow writers on the user education teams, and the developers and program managers who put the product together. Also the annual employee meetings—nobody can pump people up like Steve Ballmer.
I used to bring my daughter with me every year for Bring Your Daughter to Work day, because Microsoft really puts together a full day of events for this. My daughter’s favorite memories were not the events, but the free apple juice in the kitchenettes.
She’s away from home now in her second year of college. Her name is Mac (MacKenzie). She is not a PC. She uses an Apple MacBook. I don’t know where I went wrong.
RICH: Joe, you’ve been a PC user for many years; your Mum bought your first PC for you–what made you want a PC?
JOE: I’m not really sure, and to be honest I don’t recall asking for it, but I was a pretty inquisitive kid, so I guess my Mom thought it would be a good learning tool, which it was. My first computer wasn’t a PC strictly speaking, but rather an Atari 800 with 48K of RAM and a cassette tape drive. I did a lot with that system, even signing on to CompuServe via 300bps modem (and at outrageous hourly connect rates). Some years later I emptied my savings to buy my first IBM-compatible clone (with 640KB RAM and no hard drive) which opened a whole new world, especially once I started playing around with the early versions of Windows.
RICH: When did you decide the technical field was for you? What’s your biggest highlight from working in this industry?
JOE: My degree is actually in political science, but I determined after college that I didn’t want to work in politics or law, so shortly after graduating I applied for a job at a computer magazine (one of the first Windows-specific publications, as it turns out).Tech has been such an integral part of my life since I got that first computer, in retrospect it’s hard for me to imagine doing anything else. As for industry highlights there have been several, but one of my all-time favorites was visiting Microsoft’s campus on Halloween night for the “DOS is Dead” press event (this is going back almost fifteen years). It was when they began heavily promoting Windows and DirectX as a gaming platform over the then-dominant DOS. They turned an entire multilevel parking structure into a giant haunted house with a huge party that lasted into the wee hours. I still have the commemorative sweatshirt, which sports a tombstone and is covered in “stab wounds”.
RICH: Kevin, your book is titled “Getting StartED”; what is the significance of the uppercase ED?
KEVIN: The friends of ED line of books originally started out to mean friends of every designer, developer, or an EveryDay guy named ED. This is the starting point for an urban legend. There is a real person out there named ED. ED, this book is for you.
RICH: Joe, in Getting StartED Windows 7, it says it’s aimed at beginners. If a reader is very new to computers, how easy will it be for them to learn from the book?
JOE: I think it will be pretty easy for beginners to learn from the book because we don’t assume the reader has lots of computer knowledge. Moreover, we try to explain not simply how to do use this or that feature, but at a very basic level, why you should use it. For example, during the chapter on User Accounts I was thinking about all the times (lots) I’ve encountered a Windows system where everyone in the house used the exact same account, and was sure to spend some time up front emphasizing the added convenience and security of giving each person his or her own.
RICH: Even though the book is for beginners, do you feel experienced users could get value from reading it?
I think people that are experienced with XP or Vista can still get a benefit from the book. Even though we intentionally keep much of the material quite basic, there’s lots of good info in there about new and improved Windows features, not to mention the myriad UI enhancements.
RICH: Windows 7 is a quick release after three years of Windows Vista. Kevin, do you think the new operating system come too soon?
KEVIN: Not a moment too soon. I was surprised when I started hearing about Windows 7. I know that before a new operating system is even out the door Microsoft is already working on the next release. But initially I expected a series of Service Packs that would address Vista annoyances like the overactive User Account Control. Look how long XP has lasted. Several years ago, my friends and family knew I was testing Vista and trying it out on my home computer. When Vista came out nobody asked me “should I upgrade to Vista?”
Everybody asks me if they should upgrade to Windows 7, is it any good? I was asked that so many times over the holidays, I posted a blog article on my new blog at yourmotherdoeswindows.com.
The short answer I give is… if you have Windows Vista now, I recommend upgrading to Windows 7. If you get a new computer, get it with Windows 7, not an XP downgrade. The only exception is if you are looking at a netbook you’ll be disappointed with Windows 7 Starter edition. You are better off with the Windows XP Home SP3 netbooks. I upgraded my netbook to Windows 7 Pro and have no regrets. But part of why people buy netbooks is because they are so inexpensive. For most people, it doesn’t make economic sense to upgrade a netbook to Windows 7 Home Ultimate or Pro—for the price of a netbook + an upgrade above Windows 7 Starter, you can get a slightly larger standard laptop with Windows 7 Home Ultimate.
RICH: Joe, Windows 7 comes with a whole host of new features; what is your favorite addition to Windows 7 and why?
JOE: I’m a big fan of the new Taskbar. Prior to Windows 7, keeping open programs organized was always a bit of a pain, especially for those of us running with countless apps or open windows. The ability to pin frequently-used programs, Jump Lists, thumbnail window previews, etc. have made the new Windows 7 Taskbar a real productivity enhancer, and it looks a lot cooler too.
RICH: Conversely, Kevin, what is your least favorite feature of Windows 7? What would you do to improve/replace it?
KEVIN: The new taskbar is not as versatile as it was in Windows XP. On my computers running XP, I tore off the Quick launch bar from the main toolbar, and docked it on the right side of my desktop. On my work computer I have all of my most commonly used programs on my Quick launch bar so that I rarely have to go down into the Start menu. With Windows 7, I cannot float or dock toolbars separate from the taskbar—I have to move all of them to one side of the desktop—top, bottom, right, or left. Dragging the entire taskbar is not as smooth or intuitive as it used to be.
What I would like to see is floating/undockable multiple toolbars, an option to separate the quick launch bar from the taskbar buttons for the open windows.
Ask me how I feel about the taskbar a few months from now and I may think it is fine. In a way I’m grasping at straws to find things that I dislike. I really, really, really, like Windows 7. Visually and usability-wise, it is as exciting a step forward (from Windows P or Vista) as Windows 95 was to Windows 3.1.
RICH: I agree, even though the new taskbar is still great and brings new features, it also lost some features that used to make it great. What is your number one Windows 7 tip?
KEVIN: Let Windows do the work of finding and organizing things for you. Take the time to see how Libraries work to organize your documents, pictures, music, and videos. I wasn’t crazy about Vista dropping “My” from My Computer, My Documents, My Pictures, etc., because I was used to seeing “My” in front of those for so long. In Windows 7 I was skeptical about Libraries, but once I gave it a chance it really simplified and cleaned up how these things are stored and accessed. The real folder structure of C:\ Documents and Settings is still there underneath it all, but for most people the Libraries folders are much more intuitive.
In the book we try to use the Search programs and files box on the Start menu as much as possible. It is so much easier to find features that way than to try to navigate through a long series of cascading menus to get to something in Control Panel. Type Picture, and wait a moment—you will see several groups of listings, like Programs, Control Panel, Documents, Music, Pictures, etc. These are the programs, features, and files associated with pictures. Compare that to trying to locate any of those items individually through the Start menu—such as searching for files, scrolling through the Programs list, or opening Control Panel. Windows 7 does a great job of indexing everything on your computer so that you can find things and get to them easier.
RICH: What about you Joe? What’s your number one Windows tip?
JOE: Probably “slow down a read a bit before you click”. I think that in haste lots of people tend to give dialog boxes only a brief and superficial scan at best before making selections, which can not only to missing important information, but often to unintended system changes or even malware.
RICH: Thank you both for taking time to answer my questions and sharing a little more about yourself and your book.
KEVIN: Thank you Rich for allowing me to share my Windows experiences with you and your readers.
JOE: Thanks for taking the time to read the book and talk to us.
Book Review of Getting StartED Windows 7
Getting StartED Windows 7 is a newly-released book, which is designed to help novice users get started with Windows 7 and learn good practices. The book is free of technical jargon and gives background and insight on everything it teaches.
When I first flicked through the pages of the book, I was impressed by how simple it looked; I knew the book had a lot to teach and contained a wealth of information, but I didn’t once feel overwhelmed by looking through its content.
I don’t consider myself an advanced Windows user (you’d have to know a LOT to take that crown), but I feel I know enough to get me into trouble and dig my way out–sometimes–again. With skepticism, I began to read a book written for begginers. Could I really learn anything? I secretly thought to myself. Many hours later, and a little sleep deprived, I can say that I highly recommend this book. I learned quite a few gems that will be useful, to someone, someday.
The book is filled with sidenotes (NoteED) and advanced tips (AdvancED.) The AdvancED boxes are where I learned the most; I found a wealth of information in these boxes like on Page 366, which gives a tip on Easy Transfer. Windows Help tells you to install programs first and then copy files when migrating to a new PC; however, the book instructs you to do the opposite: that is, to copy files and then install programs. The book teaches you that Windows Easy Transfer gives recommendations on which programs you should install after it copies your files. If you copy XLS, DOCX etc. files, it recommends you install Microsoft Office. This is a great tip and, while I don’t use Windows Easy Transfer, I know plenty of people that do and will share this gem with them.
One thing I feel the book lacks is a glossary. The book explains words when they first appear, but if you aren’t reading cover to cover, you may miss some explanation and a glossary would really help.
In conclusion, this book really is for novices and, as a technical person (if that’s you), you wont learn a ton from this book. You will, however, learn the right way to do things–the way Microsoft intended and not the shortcut, back path you’ve found. This book has helped me help others and it can do the same for you. If you’re new to computers; new to Windows; or need a clear, simple solution to your PC questions; this book is for you.
Purchase Getting StartED Windows 7.