THE PRINTED WORD
Rodnay Zaks, president of Sybex Inc., a Berkeley, Calif.-based computer-book publisher, doesn't think reading is necessarily the best means for becoming knowledgeable about computers. "Probably the most effective way," he says "is to have a person next to you to show you how." But, he adds, reading doesn't require your being away from the office. And, unlike such aids as electronic tutorials, you can take a book to bed or to lunch. "A book can allow you to fly on your own very quickly for a very minor investment," he says.
Businesspeople looking for reading matter on micros today have no lack of choice. Yes! Bookshop in Washington, D.C., for example, stocked, at recent count, 1,167 titles; of those, 275 dealt with general business applications. Unfortunately, says Zaks, most of the books on the market are "junk." And, adds Dennis Curtin, president of Curtin & London Inc., a publishing house based in Somerville, Mass., business books on software often tell you how to use the program, but they don't tell you how to put commands together to do a particular task. "It's like teaching an auto mechanic about tools but not showing him how to do a tune-up," he says.
Still, there are books that will provide either a good introduction to computers or help with specialized applications. To maximize the chances of getting a decent text, Zaks suggests, a businessperson should narrow the problem to be solved to one statement. Don't, for instance, try to learn from a single book both how a computer works and how to use a spreadsheet. Adds Peter McWilliams, whose introductory The Personal Compucer Book has sold 220,000 copies, "You should be able to pick up a book, open it anywhere, and read one paragraph. If you understand that paragraph, you'll probably understand the book. If you don't, you won't understand the book, so don't waste your time."
Cris Popenoe, owner of Yes! Bookshop and a micro user herself, publishes an annotated bibliography of more than 800 titles to help potential buyers cut through the fog ($2, refundable with your first book order; 1035 31 st St. NW, Washington, DC 20007).
If you are looking for current information on microcomputer hardware and software magazines are obviously your best bet But of the more than 80 periodicals now jamming the racks, no more than a handful provide hard facts for business users. InfoWorld, the weekly published by CW Communications Inc., although not targeted toward the business reader, is nonetheless the best single news source on micros.
Each issue contains reviews of hardware and software, and just reading the ads will keep you up-to-date.
McGraw-Hill Publications's Byte, which published its first issue in 1975, is technically oriented, but, again, skimming through its ads gives a solid overview of happenings in the micro world. Byte is also good for reviews and evaluations, says James B. Brinton, former editor-in-chief of Business Computer Systems, the Cahners Publishing Co. magazine that is one of the few specifically designed for businesspeople. Another of Byte's advantages is that it is free for any businessperson whose company has a computer. Brinton advises shopping for magazines at computer stores rather than newsstands. The retail outlets, he says, stock back issues that might have just the article you want. Other magazines trying to reach a business audience include Personal Computing, Popular Computing, Interface Age, and Desktop Computing.
For those who like the Reader's Digest approach, Business Systems Update, published monthly by PrimeStar Research Inc. in Roselle, Ill., summarizes articles from all the current publications. Its September issue, for instance, included 171 abstracts, arranged by topic, from 35 magazines.
Publications dedicated to individual machines are another source of potentially valuable pointers. Published either independently or by the micro manufacturers, these include PC and 1PC World for the IBM PC; Apple Orchard, Nibble, InC'ider, C.A.L.L. Apple, and Softalk for the Apple; 80-Microcomputing and Basic Computing for Radio Shack's TRS-80 (Tandy Corp. also publishes a newsletter, TRS-80 Microcomputer News); The Portable Companion for the Osborne computer; and Profiles, a bimonthly magazine for users of the Kaypro portable computer.