Are you one of the lucky ones who can pick up a new piece of software or hardware and begin using it without glancing at a user manual or...

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Are you one of the lucky ones who can pick up a new piece of software or hardware and begin using it without glancing at a user manual or even start-up instructions?

I wish I could. After working with technology for some years, I find it’s certainly easier to get started, but even now there are times I feel like throwing away my computer and everything that plugs into it. But then I think about writing with a typewriter again, or working in a chemical-drenched darkroom, and slowly, I pick up the manual or reference book and start trying again.

Good tech-help books are treasures for me because they really do help. My favorites are those that make complex technology understandable. They step through the basics so I can actually begin to use the new software or hardware and then move on to more advanced uses.

Below are brief descriptions of some new books designed to help readers understand computers in general as well as a few specific applications.

The next step is to go a bookstore with a sizable computer-support section and browse for the books that best match your level of expertise and learning style.

• “How Computers Work,” eighth edition, by Ron White (Que Publishing, $30) is a useful collection of concise explanations about how computers and related technologies work.

For example, the book covers microprocessors, programming languages, disk drives, scanners, digital cameras, local area networks, the Internet, color printing and many other topics.

White’s explanations are clear and concise, and the accompanying illustrations are also helpful.

• “Google: The Missing Manual,” second edition, by Sarah Milstein, J.D. Biersdorfer and Matthew MacDonald (O’Reilly, $25), begins with a full explanation of Google’s search engine and how to use it effectively to get the results you’re seeking. Then it covers Google Images, News, Maps and many of Google’s other Web helpers.

I use the Image search engine often to find pictures of objects, people, almost any kinds of images. I click to Google Maps when I need a map and driving directions to some unfamiliar place or when I want to give someone directions to my house. Unlike MapQuest, Google correctly identifies my street as a dead end and accurately pinpoints it on a map.

Google News includes articles from international newspapers that supplement my daily edition of The Seattle Times. Google Books finds published books and provides the Table of Contents, first page (or more), a description and excerpts. Google Froogle is a shopping site; Gmail is Google’s free e-mail service; Google Picasa enables you to find, edit and share your photos; and that’s just a sampling of Google’s many services.

“Podcasting for Dummies,” by Tee Morris and Evo Terra (Wiley, $22). A podcast is a recorded audio show that’s posted on a Web site for anyone with Internet access to hear. All that’s required to create a podcast is a computer, microphone, podcasting software, a Web site and, of course, some idea of what audio content you want to share with the world.

The book goes through all the required equipment and how to use it to produce and upload a simple podcast, which isn’t all that hard. Then, as the book progresses, it describes increasingly more sophisticated options for those who want to produce better audio shows.

Finally, it provides examples of different kinds of podcasts, portrays experts in the field, and discusses the question of whether podcasting will ultimately replace traditional radio.

“iLife ’06,” by Michael Rubin (Peachpit, $35), covers the latest versions of iPhoto, iTunes, iMovie HD, iDVD, GarageBand and iWeb software applications. It also includes a DVD with lesson files.

The book’s lessons are straightforward, each with a task to accomplish, accompanied by instructions to get you there. Lessons cover: making a custom music CD, organizing and editing photos, building a slideshow, shooting and producing a very simple movie and then a more professional-looking movie, producing a podcast, building a Web page and more.

By doing each of the projects covered, the reader learns the skills needed to do other multimedia projects with the iLife ’06 applications.

“The Macintosh iLife ’06,” by Jim Heid (Peachpit, $35), also sets out to teach readers how to use the latest iLife software, but this book steps through each iLife application and explains what it’s for and how to use its tools. There are more illustrations in this book, and the sub-chapters are short and clearly focused on specific features, tools and tasks related to each iLife application.

Both iLife ’06 books are clearly written and cover the topics well, yet they take different approaches and present the information in different ways. Pick this book if you prefer to learn each iLife application tool by tool, or the previous book if you prefer learning project by project.

“Take Control of iWeb, iLife ’06 Edition,” by Steven Sande (TidBits Electronic Publishing, $10), is a downloadable electronic book (ebook).

This ebook focuses on one iLife application — iWeb, Apple’s latest Web-site-creation software. You buy this ebook online ( and download it to a computer where you can read the text on a computer screen, or print it if you want to hold and turn its pages. The book does a good job of explaining what iWeb can do and how to create Web sites with it.

I use iWeb a lot and have found that books covering all the iLife applications don’t provide quite enough detail to do all I want to do with iWeb, so this one is a valuable find.

“Firefox for Dummies,” by Blake Ross (Wiley, $22). Firefox is a free and easy-to-use browser that offers an increasingly popular alternative to Microsoft Explorer. This book covers how to install Firefox, create a personalized home page, search, create customized toolbars, download and save files, maintain security and privacy, eliminate pop-up ads, and a lot more.

Write Linda Knapp at; to read other Getting Started columns, go to: