"Dear Auntie Virus: No matter what I do, I can't bring my computer into the '90s. Every time I try to get onto the Information Superhighway, my DOS gives me Das Boot....I love my little 286, but using it makes me feel like I'm stuck in 1986...and I hated that year. Signed, Stuck in the '80s."
"Dear Stuck: What you need is to get...a machine that runs Windows 95...."
If that seems like a funny way to get into Windows 95, that's kind of the point. Auntie Virus is a character in The Improv Presents Windows 95 for the Technically Challenged, from Graphix Zone, an interactive CD-ROM aimed at helping people conquer the Win95 learning curve.
With the arrival of Microsoft's new operating system comes a slew of multimedia CD-ROMs and instructional videos for people who don't want to slog through a manual written in computerese or one of the hundreds of commercial books available. And by letting you try out Win95 yourself or watch demonstrations, they provide advantages over text-only training.
Graphix Zone is hoping humor is the way to get non-propeller heads to absorb an often-dry topic. Next to real meanings in a glossary are silly explanations. "Device" is defined as "de guys who busted Joey Buttafuoco." Throughout the program, an emcee introduces the video characters who run Win95 classes, played by comics who have worked the Improv nightclub stages nationwide. Ditzy flight attendant Nan O'Second pilots a lesson called "Using Windows Help...As a Flotation Device." Sergeant Systems USPC takes users through software basic training. And Julia Files helps people "Get Cooking With Applications...."
YUKMEISTERS.Although the Improv disk contains some funny bits, the laughs didn't sustain my interest. Fortunately, not all training CD-ROMs rely so heavily on attempted humor. One that I can recommend with a few reservations is Easy Tutor Learn Windows 95 from CRT Multimedia.
With Easy Tutor, users can choose how deeply they want to explore Win95. There are 10 "how to" modules that include exercises on customizing the desktop and running programs. People can try Win95 tasks themselves, watch the computer demonstrate how things are done, or see (whenever applicable) how Windows 3.1 handled the same task. A "concepts" area uses animated cartoons to explain the benefits of some new Windows 95 features, and there's a quiz to test your knowledge. But some of its tips are lame. ("The start button is great. Try using it when you start your session.")
Both Easy Tutor and the Improv disk work on computers running Windows 3.1 or Windows 95. The $50 CD-ROM Microsoft Windows 95 Starts Here, available in September from Microsoft Press, requires Win95 and is supposed to work seamlessly with the new operating system. The five-chapter course provides demonstrations and step-by-step examples of features. Classes can be customized for Windows newcomers or upgraders.
Two former Microsoft Windows product managers are the trainers in a new video called Learn! Microsoft Windows 95 Getting Started, from WinStruct (800 242-4842), the first in a three-tape series ($20 each or $55 for the set). Getting Started is straightforward and informative, with nice details, such as how the long file names allowed under Win95 would appear in Windows 3.1 programs.
Another tape, the $20 Microsoft Windows 95 Video Guide from GT Interactive Software, tries to take the same humor path as Graphix Zone. But guess what? It isn't funny. Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry from the NBC show Friends star in a cybersitcom that uses up about half of the one-hour video (soon to be a CD-ROM). The sitcom is filled with awful jokes ("Plug and play? What's that, some kind of hair replacement for kids?"). With lines such as these, you might as well just read the manual.