NEW YORK - Gauging from the number of books sent me for possible
review lately, personal computing has probably provided publishing
with its greatest boost since the romance novel.
The proliferation of volumes on personal computing began
legitimately enough as an extension of the technology, which was
supposed to render paper-based text obsolete.
But its real impetus, as soon became apparent, stemmed from the
simple fact that the presumably explanatory material accompanying
both the hardware and the software tools of the new trade was
usually impenetrable by anyone who had spent less than a lifetime in
the digital world.
From these beginnings a plethora of volumes grew, in a trend
similar to the release of a bevy of cookbooks following the mass
acceptance of the "crock pot" and the cuisinart. As people collect
cookbooks, so they collect computer books, although the latter are
certainly less mouth-watering. They acquire shelves full of titles,
some not very useful, others gold mines of ideas.
Into the latter category falls ``LaserJet Unlimited,'' by Ted
Nace and Michael Gardner ($24.95 from Peachpit Press, Berkeley,
Calif.), an introduction to and overview of the popular printer named
in the title.
The book was typeset on the printer, providing an example of the
kind of document that can be produced using a LaserJet with the
appropriate software. It employs a broad range of typefaces
including Russian, Hebrew, Greek, various fancy fonts and, for the
real esoterica fanciers among us, rune gothic and hieroglyphics.
I only wish that in implementing a visual approach the authors
had chosen to right-justify their text margins. No book short of a
volume of poetry looks truly like a book to me when it has ragged
right page margins.
``LaserJet Unlimited'' covers the typographical essenam of
electronic fonts to symbol sets - foreign characters, mathematical
symbols, musical notation and graphic shapes - as well as the
command language used by the printer and, of course, word
processing. The emphasis in the word processing section is on
Microsoft Word, arguably the best text package presently available
for formatting complex page layouts on the LaserJet. The book also
contains a useful chapter on adapting dBase II and III reports for
laser printing in order to effect the kind of quality end product
that burning the midnight video screen deserves.
A large portion of the book is devoted to the various
specialized software packages designed expressly to harness the
exceptional power of the LaserJet and similar printers, programs
such as Fancy Font, Fontasy, Fontrix, Laser Control and LaserEase.
None of these programs is covered in detail sufficient to enable one
to take advantage of their full potential. But for anyone
contemplating the purchase of this Hewlett-Packard printer,
``LaserJet Unlimited'' is definitely a good volume to peruse
beforehand, offering as it does an appreciation of what the machine
can add to one's personal computing power.
A more basic mystery for many beginning personal computer users
dealing with printers is that of serial versus parallel
communications ports, those strange sockets at the back of a
computer by means of which a printer and various other peripherals
such as modems are plugged into the machine. Two seemingly identical
printers, for instance, may deal with a computer's output, the
stream of electronic information destined to activate the print
head, in a quite different fashion. Yet there seems to be no volume
dealing satisfactorily with the rudiments of this complex subject. …