Here's part of "The Secret Guide to Computers," copyright by Russ Walter, 27th edition. For newer info, read the 33rd edition at


Thanks for opening this book! If you wish, it will change your life by turning you into a computer expert quickly. If you’ve been an expert already, it will turn you into a better expert. It’s the only book that explains all important computer topics well.

Here’s the only reason why this book is good: I’ve been foolish enough to spend 27 years improving it! This 27th edition is a major improvement over the 26th; it contains the changes readers worldwide requested.

This book gives you what you want.

Unlike a “Dummies” book (which is written for dummies and keeps them dumb) and a “standard textbook” (which is shoved at overworked college students and makes them snore louder), this book throws you into the action fast, makes you competent, and then makes you wise. It explains how to buy a computer, then how to use it (covering all popular operating systems and application programs), then how to reprogram it to change its soul, then how to launch your career.

Every major computer magazine has praised this book for being “the best”. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than any other.

If you’re a computer expert already, you might notice a few sentences that have become outdated. I apologize. Documenting the entire computer industry is as tough as catching a greased pig: whenever I think I’ve finally caught the truth, the computer industry bolts ahead into a strange new direction. That’s why this project never ends: finishing this edition means it’s time to start writing the  next, and then the next, in endless frustration! If you have suggestions for the next edition, please tell me.

I wish this book didn’t have to exist.

I wish computer companies would create pleasant hardware and software, accompanied by pleasant manuals. Until that happens, scribes like me are doomed to spending our lives explaining the computer industry’s mistakes.

Phone me

This is the only available book whose author is foolish enough to give you his home phone number: it’s
603-666-6644. It’s easy to memorize: after dialing New Hampshire’s area code (603), press the six key several times (66666) then 44. Call whenever you have a question about computers — or life! I’ll help you, free, even if your question is weird or personal.

This free consulting service has saved readers many kilohours and kilobucks. Readers have smuggled copies of this book worldwide, so each month I get phone calls from all over the world, as thousands of new budding gurus phone me for help.

Call day or night, 24 hours: I’m usually in, and I sleep just lightly.

Let’s get started!

Welcome to your new computer. I’ll be your computer tutor.

Hands on keyboard! Eyes up front! Press those keys! Do not grunt!

When you get a bit confused, snatch this book and come peruse.

If you want to learn some more, call 666-6644.

This book’s become too huge to read over the phone. If you ask me a question answered in the book, I’ll tell you which pages reveal the answer. After you’ve read, phone me with any further questions.

For advice about which computer to buy, read the newest edition of the book, then phone me. For help curing an ill computer, call me when your phone is next to the computer. For help running a program, phone me when you’re at the computer and have the program’s official manual.

To handle hundreds of calls per day while I’m in the middle of managing my staff and creating new editions, I try to keep the average call to 7 minutes. Begin by saying your name, city, how you got my number (“from the 27th edition”), and a one-sentence summary of your question. Then we’ll chat — unless I’m in the middle of another call or meeting, in which case I’ll call you back, free!

Come visit

Whenever you visit New Hampshire, you can drop in and use my free computer library. Drop in anytime: day or night! But in case I’m having an orgy with my 30 computers, please phone first to pick a time when we’re cooled down.

I’m in New Hampshire and also cyberspace, where you can visit my secret fun site ( and torture me with e-mail to

Mail the coupon

Mail us the coupon on this book’s last page. It puts you on our mailing list, which gets you FREE info on our many wild services. You also get discounts on extra copies of this book.

Love your librarian

These details will help your librarian fill in the file cards and not get fired.

Title:                         The Secret Guide to Computers, 27th edition for 2001

So-called author:  Russ Walter (also known as “Russy-poo”)

Publisher:              the same servant as the author

Physical address:  bedroom at 196 Tiffany Lane, Manchester NH 03104-4782

Mental address: or get personal with

Copywrong:           end of 2000 (October) by Russ Walter

International Standard Book Number (ISBN): 0-939151-27-8

Library of Congress: pending; earlier edition was 89-51851, QA 76 .W3

Elfish fun

I wrote this book myself, but over the years I’ve been helped by many elves and associated critters.

Sorcerer’s apprentices:     Len Pallazola      Kira Barnum       Maura Cabral

Friendly ghosts:                  Yvonne Bohemier  Linda Gardner  Cathy Carlson

Meadow sprites:                    Irene Vassos        Richard Grant

Wandering minstrels:         Larry Mancini    Jeff Lowe

Singing Chinese Madonnas:  Donna Walter     Donna Liao

Artistes bizarre:                 Cindy Best          Susan Goldenberg

Bubbly brights:                   Anthony Kind    Nancy Kafka

Babbling Brooklines:             Lisbeth Shaw       Michael Krigsman

Gigantic alien brains:         Roy Krantz         Adam Green

Wonder women:                 Ruth Spingarn     Lili Timmons

Queens of bygone days:     Priscilla Grogan  Julianne Wattles

Brothers grin:                     Dan Walter         Jim Walter

Printer devils:                     John Pow            Banta

Art collectors:                       Dover                    Formatt

Gnome (and is an island unto himself):    Russy-poo

Introductory junk

My editor told me to put this stuff in. You don’t have to read it.

Dedication I dedicate this book to the computer, without whom I’d be unemployed.

What this book will do for you It’ll make you even richer than the author! Alas, he’s broke.

Prerequisite This book was written for idiots. To see whether you can get through the math, take this test: count to ten but (here’s the catch!) without looking at your fingers.

Acknowledgment I’d like to thank:

my many friends (whose names I’ve gladly forgotten)

my students (who naturally aren’t my friends)

my word processor (which has a mind of its own)

all others who helped make this book impossible

Apology Any original ideas in this book are errors.

Disclaimer The author denies any knowledge of the scintillating illegal activities he depicts.

Copyright Our copyright policy is simple: hey, copying is all right! Make as many copies as you like, and don’t pay us a cent. Just follow the “free reprint” instructions on page 9.

Forward …because it’s too late to turn back.

What’s in this book

The Secret Guide to Computers is the world’s only complete computer tutorial. It covers everything important about computers! It explains how to buy, operate, apply, and program computers.

Feast your eyes on the massive table of contents, splashed across the next page. It’s divided into five columns:

The first column, “Buyer’s guide”, covers how to buy a computer.

The second column covers how to operate a computer

(by using “Operating systems” and “Word processing”).

The third column cover how to apply a computer

(by using “Communication” and “Tricky applications”).

The fourth column, “Programming”, covers how to program a computer

(to make that mean machine do whatever you wish).

The last column, “Endnotes”, reveals secrets I was afraid to tell earlier.

Let’s look more closely.…

Buyer’s guide

The Guide begins by explaining computer technology, computer jargon, and how to buy a great computer cheaply.

It analyzes each of the computer’s parts (the chips, disks, screens, printers, other hardware, and software) and tells you the best way to buy a complete computer system. It explains how to buy the most common kind of computers (IBM-compatibles), the fascinating competitors from Apple, and alternative computers that are wildly different.

The Guide makes specific recommendations about which brands to buy and where to buy them. It delves into each manufacturer’s goodies and not-so-goodies. It reveals the nasty details that salespeople try to hide. It turns you into a German nun, who knows the difference between what’s blessed and what’s wurst.

Operating systems

After getting a computer, you operate it by typing commands on its keyboard or wiggling its mouse. The Guide explains the popular operating systems: Windows 95, 98, & Me (used for most new computers), Windows 3.1 & 3.11 (for older computers), MS-DOS (for all IBM-compatible computers), and the Mac system (for the Apple Macintosh).

Word processing

The most popular thing to do with a computer is to make it replace your typewriter. That’s called “word processing”. The word-processing chapter explains how to use the best word-processing programs: Microsoft Word (which performs the fanciest tricks and is the standard for most businesses), Microsoft Works (which is easier to learn and costs less), WordPerfect (similar to Microsoft Word but costs less, causes fewer hassles, and is especially popular in law firms), and Q&A Write (which is so simple that it doesn’t even require you to learn Windows).


Computers form their own society: they chat with computers in other rooms, other cities, and other countries! The most popular way to let your computer chat with far-away computers is to use a worldwide network called “the Internet.” The Guide demystifies that (so you become an “Internut”), then reveals how to make your computer send a fax and chat with nearby computers that form local-area networks.

Tricky applications

The Guide explores even the trickiest applications. You learn how to handle spreadsheets (tables of numbers) by using Excel, Quattro Pro, and Works; databases (computerized file cards) by using Microsoft Access and simpler systems (FileMaker Pro, Works, and Q&A File); then go wild with graphics, desktop publishing, multimedia; accounting, personal programs (everything from lovemaking to therapy!), games (seductive fun!), and artificial intelligence (so the computer seems to become human).


Our world is split into three classes of people:

avoiders (who fear and loathe computers and avoid them)

users (who use computers but don’t really understand them)

programmers (who understand computers and can teach them new tricks)

The Guide elevates your mind to the heights of class 3: it turns you into a sophisticated programmer.

Since the Guide’s explanation of “BASIC” expands your understanding of computers so dramatically, don’t wait! Start reading it the same day you start “Spreadsheets” — as if you were taking two courses simultaneously.

To program the computer, you feed it instructions written in a computer language. The Guide explains all the popular computer languages.

The programming section begins with the easiest popular language (BASIC) in all 3 popular versions: GWBASIC, QBASIC, and Visual BASIC. Then it explains PASCAL (the language that forces you to organize your mind), C & C++ (the most popular languages among experts, who’ve used them to create all the popular programs for word processing, communication, spreadsheets, and databases), JAVA (for programming the Internet), DBASE (the fanciest language for handling databases), and LOGO (used by kids in elementary school to make turtles dance across the computer’s screen).

In the “good old days”, when programmers were treated like gods, the most popular computer languages were FORTRAN (for scientists) and COBOL (for businesses). Though they’re called “the languages for old fogies” now, many big computers still thrive on them — and so do many careers! The Guide covers a semester’s course in each.

A gigantic chapter analyzes 23 strange tongues and divides those computer languages into three categories.


radical languages: LISP, SNOBOL, APL, LOGO, FORTH, PILOT

specialized languages: APT, DYNAMO, GPSS, RPG, SPSS, PROLOG

The chapter tutors you in all of them. It even includes a multilingual dictionary that helps you translate programs to different computer languages.

To top it all off, you learn how to program by using the most common assembler for the IBM PC and translate your programs to the Macintosh and other computers.


I hate to admit it, but occasionally computers break! They’ll break less often if you follow my tricks for maintenance; but if you get unlucky, the chapter on repairs explains how to fix them. The Guide even explains how to cure a computer that’s ill from viruses.

We members of the computer industry all have skeletons in our closet. The Guide digs up our past and counsels you about how to improve your career and your future.

You also get an explanation of numerical analysis, an index to the entire Guide, and coupons for getting more goodies! Wow!

Table of contents


Buyer’s guide       10

What’s a “computer”?      10

Kinds of computers       10

Prices drop                       14

System’s parts               15

Subculture                      16

Periodicals                    18

Discount dealers            20


Chip technology           23

CPU                                 24

Memory chips               29


Fundamentals                32

Floppy disks                  32

Hard disks                     36

CD-ROMs                     39


What’s a screen?           41

Monitors                          41

TV sets                         44

Liquid crystals               44


Fundamentals                45

Dot-matrix printers          46

Ink-jet printers                 48

Laser printers                49

Best buys                       50

Printer technology        51

Other hardware

Keyboards                     54

Graphics-input devices      56

Speakers                        56

Modems                        57

Tapes                            58

Cases                             59

Surge suppressors           59


Kinds of software             60

Operating systems         60

Languages                     61

Programs                      61

Data                                 63

Software companies          64

Buying software            65


IBM technology            67

How clones are priced       70

Famous clones               72

    ABS & NuTrend        72

    Emachines                    74

    Micro Center            74

    Gateway                    74

    Packard Bell              77

    Compaq                    78

    Bargain notebooks    79

    Dell                              79

    Micron                      80

    Hewlett-Packard       80

    Quantex                       80

    Nuts & Cleveland      80

    Alternatives              81


Apple’s influence          82

Original Apple              82

Apple 2                         83

Apple 3                         84

Lisa                               85

Macs                             85

Who runs Apple?             87

Alternative computers

Commodore                  88

Tandy                           90

Atari                             92

Operating systems         93

Windows 95, 98, & Me

Starting                         95

Calculator                     96

WordPad                       97

Time                          101

Paint                          101

My Computer            102

File’s shortcut menu   104

Deleting files                 105

Tricks                        105

Windows 3.1 & 3.11

Starting                      108

Accessories                110

Main window              113


Get into DOS                 114

Simple commands      117

External commands       122

Edit your disks           126

Batch files                  130

Boot                          131

Special keys               138

Analyze the computer   140

Print on paper           142

Tricks                        143

Mac system

Start your Mac           150

Use the mouse            151

Pull down a menu          151

Open an icon                 153

SimpleText                154

Advanced features      157



Word processing 161

Microsoft Word

Starting                      162

Formatting toolbar     165

Select text                  169

Standard toolbar         170

Menu bar                    174

    File menu               174

    Edit menu              174

    View menu              175

    Insert menu            176

    Format menu         179

    Tools menu            181

    Table menu            181

    Window menu        181

    Help menu                 182

Microsoft Works

Starting                      183

Toolbar                      184

Select text                  187

Menu bar                   188

    File menu               188

    Edit menu              188

    View menu              189

    Insert menu            190

    Format menu         190

    Tools menu            192

    Help menu                 193


Starting                      194

Property toolbar        195

Select text                  197

WordPerfect toolbar  198

Q&A Write

Starting                      200

Function keys            203

Blocks                           204

Final steps                  204

Communication   205


Internet joy               206

How the Internet arose  206

Service providers        209

Browse the Web         210

Electronic mail              217

Newsgroups                224

Create Web pages       227


Send a fax                  231

Receive a fax                 231

Local-area networks

Types of LANs              232

Interlnk                     234

Netware commands    235

Other ways to share       235




Tricky applications 236


How spreadsheets arose 237

Starting                      238

Hop far                      241

Adjust rows & columns  242

Move                         244

Copy                          245

After you’ve finished 246

Beautify your cells     248

Sort                            251

Chart                         252


What’s a database?     254

Competitors               255

FileMaker Pro            256

Works database              260

Microsoft Access       262

Q&A                          267


What to buy               276

Classic art                  277

3-D drawing               284

PowerPoint                284

Desktop publishing

Professional publishing  289

Cheaper solutions          290

Microsoft Publisher       291


Speech                       296

Music                         296

Advanced multimedia 297


General accounting     298

Specialized accounting   299

Personal programs

Analyze yourself        300

Fall in love                    303

Replace people           306

Be poetic                   309

Analyze writing          314

Translate Russian          315


Board games               316

Adventure games        319

Action games             322

Artificial intelligence

Natural versus artificial  324

Early dreamers           324

Understand English    326

Surveying the field     328

Programming      331


Fun                            332

Using variables           346

Helpful hints              374

Pretty output                378

Fancy calculations      388

Sub stuff                     408

Style                          416

Weird features            420

Versions of BASIC      437


Fun                            448

Math                          451

Simple variables         451

IF                               452

Loops                        453

Logic tricks                454

Advanced variables     455

C & C++

Fun                            456

Math                          458

Numeric variables       460

Logic                         461

Character variables     464

C versus C++           465


Fun                             466

Math                          467

Variables                 468

Input                          469

Logic                         470


Get comfortable         472

Create a data file        474

See your data                 475

Revise your data         478

Switch files                 480

Index files                  481

Programs                   482

Control the flow        485


Turtle graphics           488

Math                          490

Structures                   491

Programs                   493

Workspace                    495


Fun                            496

Math                          499

Pleasant I/O               502

Logic                         503

Lists                           504

Functions                   507

Exotic features           508


Fun                            512

Variables                 514

Logic                         518

Data files                   520

Advanced structures   523

Extra comments        527

Strange tongues

Charts                        528

Mainstream languages    530

Radicals                      541

Specialists                  548


Number systems         556

Character codes          558

SEXY assembler         559

DEBUG                      564

Inside the CPU           566

Intel’s details                 570

Endnotes             572


Prevent problems          573

Clean your hardware   574

Clean your software       575

    Windows 95 & 98  575

    Windows 3.1 & 3.11 579

    DOS                       580


Strategies for repair       582

Common problems     583

    Booting                  583

    Windows 95 & 98  586

    Windows 3.1 & 3.11 587

    Mouse                    588

    Keyboard               588

    Printer                   589

    Other hardware      590


Virus secrets               592

File viruses                    593

Boot-sector viruses    594

Multipartite viruses    595

Macro viruses             595

E-mail worms             596

    Happy 99               596

    Pretty Park            596

    Explore ZIP           597

    Free Link               597

    Kak                           597

    Love Bug               597

    Life Stages             598

DoS attacks                598

Hoaxes                       599

Our past

Ancient history             600

    Charles Babbage     600

    Lady Lovelace       600

    Herman Hollerith      600

    World War II          601

    1st generation         601

    2nd generation        602

    3rd generation         602

Micro history                603

    Built-in keyboards  603

    Improvements       604

    TI & Atari                604

    Sinclair & Osborne 604

    IBM PC                 604

Cycles                        605

Events                           606

Your future

Become an expert         607

Land a computer job  608

Set your rates             609

Develop your career   609

Change your personality   613

Computerize your home   614

Teach your kids          615

Avoid dangers             617

Read good books        619

Share our knowledge   620

Numerical analysis

Errors                        621

Estimates                   622

Solve equations          622


Vendor phone book    624

Jargon dictionary       626

Menus & icons           630

Languages                  631

Master index A-Z          632


Coupon for friends     638

Coupon for you             639

Praised by reviewers

If you like this book, you’re not alone.

Praised by computer magazines

All the famous computer magazines call Russ Walter “Boston’s computer guru” and praise him for giving free consulting even in the middle of the night. Here’s how they evaluate The Secret Guide to Computers.…

PC World: “Russ Walter is a PC pioneer, a trailblazer, the user’s champion. Nobody does a more thorough, practical, and entertaining job of teaching PC technology. His incomparable Guide receives nothing but praise for its scope, wit, and enormous practicality. It offers a generous compendium of industry gossip, buying advice, and detailed, foolproof tutorials. It’s a wonderful bargain.”

Byte: “The Guide is amazing. If you need to understand computers and haven’t had much luck at it, or have to teach other people about computers, or just want to read a good book about computers, get the Guide.”

Computer Currents: “Your computer literacy quotient will always come up short unless you know something about Russ Walter. He’s a folk hero. He knows virtually everything about personal computers and makes learning about computers fun. If you’ve given up in disgust and dismay at reading other computer books, get the Guide. It should be next to every PC in the country. PC vendors would do themselves and their customers a big favor by packing a copy of the Guide with every computer that goes out the door. The Guide deserves the very highest recommendation.”

PC Magazine: “The Guide explains the computer industry, hardware, languages, operating systems, and applications in a knowledgeable and amusing fashion. It includes Russ Walter’s unbiased view of the successes and failures of various companies, replete with inside gossip. By working your way through it, you’ll know more than many who make their living with PCs. Whether novice or expert, you’ll learn from the Guide and have a good time doing so. No other computer book is a better value.”

Abacus: “Alternative-culture Walter provides the best current treatment of programming languages. It’s irreverent, reminiscent of the underground books of the 1960’s. It’s simple to read, fast-paced, surprisingly complete, full of locker-room computer gossip, and loaded with examples.”

Infoworld: “Russ Walter is recognized and respected in many parts of the country as a knowledgeable and effective instructor. His Guide is readable, outrageous, and includes a wealth of information.”

Mac User: “It’s an everything-under-one-roof computer technology guide.”

Computerworld: “The Guide by unconventional computer guru Russ Walter is informative and entertaining.”

Computer Shopper: “The Guide covers the entire spectrum. It’s incredibly informative and amusing.”

Home Office Computing: “Russ Walter is a computer missionary who’s a success story.”

Classroom Computer Learning: “Russ Walter’s courses are intensive and inexpensive.”

Compute: “Russ Walter is an industry leader.”

Praised by the classics Earlier editions of the Guide were praised by all the classic computer magazines.

Popular Computing: “Russ Walter is king of the East Coast computer cognoscenti. His Guide is the biggest bargain in computer tutorials in our hemisphere. If CBS ever decides to replace Andy Rooney with a ‘60 Minutes’ computer pundit, they’d need to look no further than Russ Walter. His wry Walterian observations enliven nearly every page of his book. His Guide is the first collection of computer writings that one might dare call literature.”

Personal Computing: “The Guide is bulging with information. You’ll enjoy it. Russ Walter’s approach to text-writing sets a new style that other authors might do well to follow. It’s readable, instructive, and downright entertaining. If more college texts were written in the Russ Walter style, more college students would reach their commencement day.”

Creative Computing: “The Guide is fascinating, easy to understand, an excellent book at a ridiculously low price. We especially endorse it.”

Cider Press: “The Guide should be given to all beginners with the purchase of their computers.”

Softalk: “The Guide fires well-deserved salvos at many sacred cows. It’s long been a cult hit.”

Computer Bargain Info: “The Guide is widely acclaimed by experts as brilliant.”

Eighty Micro: “Theatrical, madcap Russ is a cult hero.”

Interface Age: “The Guide is a best buy.”

Enter: “It’s the best book about computer languages.”

Microcomputing: “Plan ahead; get in on the Secret now.”

Praised by mass-market magazines

Mass-market magazines call the Guide amazing.

Scientific American: “The Guide is irresistible. Every instruction leads to a useful result. Walter’s candor shines; he makes clear the faults and foibles others ignore or cast in vague hints. The effect is that of a private conversation with a well-informed talkative friend who knows the inside story. The text reads like the patter of a talented midnight disc jockey; it’s flip, self-deprecatory, randy, and good-humored. His useful frank content and coherent style are unique. First-rate advice on what and how to buy are part of the rich mix. No room holding a small computer and an adult learning to use it is well equipped without the Guide.”

The Whole Earth Catalog in its “Coevolution Quarterly”: “The personal-computer subculture was noted for its fierce honesty in its early years. The Guide is one of the few intro books to carry on that tradition, and the only introductory survey of equipment that’s kept up to date. Russ Walter jokes, bitches, enthuses, condemns, and charms. The book tells the bald truth in comprehensible language.”

Omni: “Guru Russ Walter sympathizes deeply with people facing a system crash at midnight, so he broadcasts his home phone number and answers calls by the light of his computers, cursors winking. He’s considered an excellent teacher. His Guide is utterly comprehensive.”

Changing Times: “Russ Walter is a computer whiz whose mission is to educate people about computers. Like a doctor, he lets strangers call him in the middle of the night for help with diagnosing a sick computer. His Guide covers everything you ever wanted to know.”

Esquire: “The handy Guide contains lots of fact and opinion untainted by bias.”

Barron’s: “Russ Walter is an expert who answers questions for free and has been inundated by calls.”

Praised by computer clubs

Computer clubs call the Guide the best computer book, in their newsletters, newspapers, and magazines.

Boston Computer Society: “The Guide is cleverly graduated, outrageous, and funny. Russ Walter turns computerese into plain speaking, while making you giggle. He’s years ahead of the pack that claims to have ways of instructing computer novices. His unique mix of zany humor and step-by-step instruction avoids the mistakes of manuals that attempt to follow his lead.”

Connecticut Computer Society: “Russ Walter’s books have been used by insiders for years. He’s special as a teacher because of three factors: his comprehensive knowledge of many computers and their languages, operating system, and applications; his ability to break complicated processes into the smallest components; and his humor. A valuable feature of the Guide is his candid comments about various computers and software. He’s one of the few people able to review languages, machines, and software, all in a humorous, clear manner, with the whole endeavor set off by his sense of industry perspective, history, and culture. If you’re ever struck with a computer problem, give Russ a call.”

New England Computer Society: “Russ Walter is considered one of the few true computer gurus. His Guide is the world’s best tutorial. It’s the single best present anyone could receive who cares to know more about computers without going crazy.”

New York’s “NYPC”: “The Guide is the perfect text for anyone beginning to learn about computers because it contains real info in readable form about a range of subjects otherwise requiring a whole reference library. It’s even better for the experienced computer user, since it also contains many, many advanced concepts that one person could hardly remember. But one person apparently remembered them all: Russ Walter. He’s a fountain of computer knowledge and can even explain it in words of one syllable. His Guide reads like a novel: you can read simply for fun. It’s recommended to anyone from rank beginner to seasoned power user.”

Sacramento (California) PC Users Group: “The Guide is the best collection of computer help ever written. It includes just about everything you’d want to know about computers. You’ll find answers for all the questions you thought of and some you didn’t think of. No holds barred, Walter even tells you who in the industry made the mistakes and rotten computers, and who seemed to succeed in spite of themselves. The Guide is fascinating. It’s recommended for anyone even slightly interested in computers.”

Praised by librarians

Librarians call the Guide the best computer book ever written.

School Library Journal: “The Guide is a gold mine of information. It’s crystal clear, while at the same time Walter delivers a laugh a paragraph along with a lot of excellent info. It’s accessible even to kids, who will love its loony humor. Buy it; you’ll like it.”

Wilson Library Bulletin: “The Guide is distinguished by its blend of clarity, organization, and humor. It cuts through the techno-haze. It packs more simple, fresh explication per page than anything else available.”

Praised around the world

The Guide is praised by newspapers around the world.

Australia’s “Sydney Morning Herald”: “The Guide is the best computer intro published anywhere in the world. It gives a total overview of personal computers. It’s stimulating, educational, provocative, and a damn good read.”

The Australian: “The Guide’s coverage of programming is intelligent, urbane, extremely funny, and full of great ideas.”

England’s “Manchester Guardian”: “Russ Walter is a welcome relief. The internationally renowned computer guru tries to keep computerdom’s honesty alive. His Guide is an extraordinary source of information.”

Silicon Valley’s “Times Tribune”: “The Guide invites you to throw aside all rules of conventional texts and plunge into the computer world entirely naked and unafraid. This book makes learning not only fun, but hilarious, inspiring, and addicting.”

Dallas Times Herald: “Easily the best beginners’ book seen, it’s not just for beginners. Its strength is how simple it makes everything, without sacrificing what matters.”

Detroit News: “Russ Walter is a legendary teacher. His fiercely honest Guide packs an incredible amount of info. It’s the only book that includes everything. He gives you all the dirt about the companies and their hardware, evaluates their business practices, and exposes problems they try to hide. Phone him. You’ll always get a truthful answer.”

Chicago Tribune: “The Guide is the best computer book. It’s a cornucopia of computer delights written by Russ Walter, a great altruist and dreamer.”

Kentucky’s “Louisville Courier”: “Walter’s Guide will teach you more computer fundamentals than the thick books in the average bookstore. The Guide gives his no-bull insights. He not only discusses computer mail-order sources, which most books avoid; he names the bad guys. The Guide’s biggest appeal is its humor, wit, and personality.”

Philadelphia Inquirer: “Russ Walter is the Ann Landers for computer klutzes, a high-tech hero. His wacky, massive Guide is filled with his folksy wit.”

New York Times: “The computer-obsessed will revel in Walter’s Guide. He covers just about every subject in the microcomputer universe. It’s unlikely you have a question his book doesn’t answer.”

Wall Street Journal: “Russ Walter is a computer expert, a guru who doesn’t mind phone calls. He brings religious-like fervor to the digital world. His students are grateful. His Guide gets good reviews. He’s influential.”

Connecticut’s “Hartford Courant”: “If you plan to buy a personal computer, the best gift to give yourself is the Guide. It’s crammed with info. It became an instant success as one of the few microcomputer books that was not only understandable and inexpensive but also witty — a combination still too rare today.”

Boston Globe: “Russ Walter is a unique resource, important to beginning and advanced users. His Guide is practical, down-to-earth, and easy to read.”

Boston Phoenix: “Russ Walter has achieved international cult status. He knows his stuff, and his comprehensive Guide is a great deal.”

Fan mail

From our readers, we’ve received thousands of letters and phone calls, praising us. Here are some recent examples.


Our books make readers go nuts.

Get high “I’m high! Not on marijuana, crack, or cocaine, but on what I did at my computer with BASIC and your Guide.” (Beverly, Massachusetts)

Strange laughs “I enjoy the Guide immensely! My fellow workers think I’m strange because of all my laughing while reading it. Whenever I feel tired or bored, I pick up the Guide. It’s very refreshing!” (Acton, Massachusetts)

Poo-poo “I finished the book at 2:30 AM and had to sit down and send you a big THANK-YOU-poo. A poet I am not, crazy I was not, until I started 18 months ago with this computer and then came poo who sealed my lot.” (Hinesville, Georgia)

Computer dreams “Wow — I loved your book. My husband says I talk about computers in my sleep.” (Los Altos Hills, California)

Bedtime story “The book’s next to the bed, where my wife and I can see who grabs it first. The loser must find something else to do, which often causes serious degradation of reading comprehension.” (Danville, New Hampshire)

Love in Paris “If you ever come to Paris, give me a call. I’ll be more than happy to meet the guy I admire most in the computer industry.” (Paris)

Sex “Great book. Better than sex.” (Worcester, Massachusetts)

Devil “This book is great. It moves like the fastest Mac, soars with the eagles, and dances with the devil.” (Chicago)

God “I’m a Russy groupie now! You are God! Your book lets me put it all together.” (San Diego)

National TV “Great! When are you going on national TV? America needs you!” (Berkeley, California)

National debt “I think you do a fabulous job with computers! You should be in Washington & organize our country, and maybe we could be debt-free.” (Tavares, Florida)


Even beginners can master the Guide.

Godsend “You’re a godsend. You saved me from being bamboozled by the local computer store.” (Boston)

Saint “You should be canonized for bringing clarity and humor to a field often incomprehensible and dull.” (Houston)

Companion to the lonely “Your book’s a nice companion when I’m alone, because it talks. It answers more questions than I can ask.” (Carson, California)

Computer disease “I was scared to go near a computer. I thought I might catch something. Now I can’t wait.” (Paterson, New Jersey)

Face-off “I used to be an idiot. Now I can stare my computer in the face. Thanks.” (San Antonio, Texas)

Amaze the professor “I love the Guide! I’ve read it before taking a BASIC course, and I’m amazing my professor with my secret skills!” (Olney, Illinois)

Walking encyclopedia “Your Guide really helps. I work with a great programmer who’s like a walking computer encyclopedia. Now I know what he’s saying!” (San Leandro, California)

Muscle in “So many computer experts speak a language all their own. They look down on us and consider us to be outsiders trying to muscle our way into their world. Thanks for helping the outsiders.” (New Iberia, Lousiana)

Facing fear “Thank you! I’m 42, married to a computer guru, with two daughters who’ve been in front of a computer since first grade. Finally, I feel that I can face my fear and that I’m not alone.” (Malvern, Pennsylvania)

Granny’s clammy “I’m a 58-year-old grandma. My daughter gave me an IBM PC. After weeks of frustration I got your Guide. Now I’m happy as a clam at high tide, eager to learn more & more. Wow!” (Seattle)

Moment of discovery “After retiring, I searched for something to stimulate my mind. I bought a computer and tried to unravel its mysteries. The more I studied big books bought from computer stores, the more confused I became. Then I stumbled across the Guide. At that precise moment I discovered the beautiful, crazy, wild world of the computer! Thanks.” (Tewksbury, Massachusetts)

Bury the Book of Songs “This is the microcomputer book that should be buried in a time capsule for future archaeologists. By reading it, I’ve made my computer sing. My wife recognizes the melodies and wants to read the book.” (Park Forest, Illinois)


Experts love the Guide.

PC Week reporter “I write for PC Week and think the Guide is the best book of its kind. I’m sending a copy to my little brother, who’s a budding byte-head.” (Boston)

Editor at Lotus “Thanks so much for sending the Guide. It’s great! Seems I’m the only one here in my office at Lotus who hadn’t heard about it. You’ve got quite a following. Again, thanks!” (Cambridge, Massachusetts)

Math professor “I’m a math professor. The Guide’s the best way in the universe to keep up to date with computers. People don’t have to read anything else — it’s all there.” (New York City)

Diehard mainframer “It is really neat! I’ve been a mainframe computer consultant for many years, and when your book came yesterday I couldn’t put it down.” (Cleveland Heights, Ohio)

Refreshed programmers “I passed the Guide around my team of mainframe programmers, and most of them bought. It’s so refreshing, after the parched dryness of IBM-ese, to find a book in English!” (Union, New Jersey)

Research center “Our research center uses and misuses gigabytes of computers. The Guide will improve our use/misuse ratio.” (Naperville, Illinois)


The Guide’s propelled many careers.

Land a first job “Last month, I bought your Guide. I’ve never seen so much info, packed so densely, in so entertaining a read. I was just offered a computer job, thanks to a presentation based on your Guide. I’m very, very, very happy I bought your book.” (San Francisco)

Land a top job “Thanks to the Guide, I got an excellent job guiding the selection of computers in a department of over 250 users!” (New York City)

Found Wall Street “Eight years ago, I took your intro programming course. Now I run the computer department of a Wall Street brokerage firm. I’m responsible for 30 people and millions of dollars of computer equipment. The Guide’s always been my foremost reference. Thank you for the key to wonderful new worlds.” (Long Beach, New York)

Consultant’s dream “Inspired by your book, your love for computers, and your burning desire to show the world that computers are fun and easily accessible, I entered the computer field. Now I’m a computer consultant. Your ideas come from the heart. Thanks for following your dream.” (Skokie, Illinois)

Kid who grew up “Years ago, I saw you sell books while wearing a wizard’s cap. I bought a book and was as impressed as a 16-year-old could be. Now I’ve earned B.A.’s in Computer Science and English, and I’m contemplating teaching computers to high school students. I can think of no better way to plan a course outline than around your Guide.” (Pennington, New Jersey)

Better late than never

Readers wish they’d found the Guide sooner.

1 year “I learned more from the Guide than from a year in the computer industry.” (Redwood City, California)

5 years “I’ve fumbled for 5 years with computers and many books, all with short-lived flashes of enthusiasm, until I found your Guide. It’s the first book that showed a light at the end of the tunnel, even for one as dull-brained as I.” (Boise)

17 years “Though in a computer company for 17 years, I didn’t learn anything about computers until I began reading the Guide. I love it! I always thought computer people were generically boring, but your book’s changed my mind.” (Hopkinton, Massachusetts)

Prince Charming arrives “Where have you been all my life? I wish I’d heard of your Guide long ago. I’d have made far fewer mistakes if it had been here alongside my computer.” (White Stone, Virginia)

Hack a Mac “Great book. I’m 14 and always wanted to hack. Thanks to your Guide, I laughed myself to death and look forward to gutting my Mac. Yours is the friendliest, funniest book on computers I’ve seen. I’m finally going to teach my parents BASIC. If I’d started out with the Guide, I’d have saved five years of fooling around in the dark.” (Northport, Alabama)


Readers pass the Guide to their friends.

Round the office “Send 150 books. I passed my Guide around the office, and just about everyone who saw it wants copies.” (Middleburg Heights, Ohio)

Coordinating the coordinators “Your book is amazing! I’m telling the other 50 PC coordinators in my company to be sure they’re in on the secret. Bless you for your magnanimous philosophy!” (Morristown, New Jersey)

Hide your secrets “I thought the Guide marvelous and proudly displayed it on my desk. A friend from South Africa saw it and said our friendship depended on letting her take it home with her. What could I do? You’ve gone international. I’m ordering another copy. Should I hide the book this time?” (Cinnaminson, New Jersey)

Cries and anger “I made the mistake of letting several friends borrow my copy of the Guide. Each time I tried getting it back, it was a battle. (I hate to see grown people cry.) I promised to order them copies of their own. I delayed several months, and now I’ve got an angry mob outside my door. While you process my order, I’ll try pacifying them by reading aloud.” (Winston-Salem, North Carolina)

Round the house “Dad bought your Guide to help him understand my computer. It’s become the most widely read book in our house. We love it!” (Boca Raton, Florida)

Squabble with Dad “I love the Guide. Dad & I squabble over our only copy. Send a second so I can finish the Guide in peace.” (New York City)

Change my brother “The Guide changed my computer scorn & fear to interest. Send my brother a copy, to effect the same transformation.” (New York City)

Selling clones “I took the Guide to a meeting and used your words as a reason why the group should buy an IBM PC clone instead of the other computer they were looking at. It worked.” (Sparks, Nevada)

Make your guru giggle “I showed the Guide to my guru. Between laughs, chuckles, and guffaws, he agreed to use it to teach his high-school computer class. He even admitted he’d learned something, and that’s the most unheard of thing I ever heard of.” (Arivaca, Arizona)

Smarter sales reps “Our company just released its first software product, and our sales reps are panic-stricken. I’m giving them the Guide to increase their computer background. Thanks for a super book.” (Pittsburgh)

Advancing secretary “I’m ordering an extra copy for my secretary, to start her on the path to a higher paying and better regarded position.” (Belleville, Illinois)

Compared with other publishers

The Guide’s better than any other book.

Better than 10 “I learned more from your Guide than from a total of 10 books read previously.” (Honolulu)

No big bucks “Your book is great! Its crazy style really keeps the pages turning. I appreciate someone who doesn’t try to make big bucks off someone trying to learn. Thanks.” (Vancouver, Washington)

Rip-off “If you can break even at your book’s low price, lots of guys are ripping us off.” (Choctaw, Oklahoma)

Who are we?

This section reveals who we are — even if you’d rather not know.

Interview with Russ

In this interview, Russ answers the most popular questions about this book and what’s behind it.

Why did you write the Secret Guide? I saw my students spending too much effort taking notes, so I made up my own notes to hand them. Over the years, my notes got longer, so this 27th edition totals 639 pages. Each time I develop a new edition, I try to make it the kind of book I wish I had when I was a student.

What does the Guide cover? Everything. Every computer topic is touched on, and the most important topics are covered in depth.

Who reads the Guide? All sorts. Kids read it because it’s easy; computer professionals read it because it contains lots of secret tidbits you can’t find anywhere else.

Why do you charge so little? I’m not trying to make a profit. I’m just trying to make people happy — by charging as little as possible, while still covering my expenses. Instead of “charging as much as the market will bear”, I try to “charge so little that the public will cheer”.

Do you really answer the phone 24 hours a day? When do you sleep? When folks call in the middle of the night, I wake up, answer their questions, then go back to bed. I’m near the phone 85% of the time. If you get no answer, I’m out on a brief errand, so please call again. If you get an answering machine, I’m out on a longer project: just leave your number and I’ll call you back at my expense, even if it’s long distance.

Why do you give phone help free? Are you a masochist, a saint, or a nut? I give the free help for three reasons: I like to be a nice guy; it keeps me in touch with my readers, who suggest how to improve the Guide further; and the happy callers tell their friends about me, so I don’t have to spend money on advertising.

At computer shows, do you really appear as a witch? I wear a witch’s black hat and red kimono over a monk’s habit and roller skates, while my white gloves caress an African spear. Why? Because it’s fun!

Did you write the whole Guide yourself? I wrote the first 22 editions myself. I was helped by many suggestions from my readers, friends, and staff, who also contributed some examples and phrases.

The 23rd edition included some paragraphs written by my research assistant, Len Pallazola, and edited by me. His paragraphs appeared mainly in sections about the Internet, Novell networks, Doom, Visual BASIC, viruses, the jargon dictionary, and the vendor directory. In later editions, I replaced some of those paragraphs with my own improvements.

What’s your background? I got degrees in math and education from Dartmouth and Harvard, taught at several colleges (Wellesley, Wesleyan, and Northeastern), and was a founding editor of Personal Computing magazine. But most of my expertise comes from spending long hours every day reading computer books and magazines, discussing computer questions on the phone, and analyzing the philosophy underlying the computer industry.

About the so-called author

Since the author is so lifeless, we can keep his bio mercifully short.

Birth of a notion The author, Russy-poo, was conceived in 1946. So was the modern (“stored-program”) computer.

Nine months later, Russy-poo was hatched. The modern computer took a few years longer, so Russ got a head start. But the computer quickly caught up. Ever since, they’ve been racing against each other, to see who’s smartest.

The race is close, because Russ and the computer have so much in common. Folks say the computer “acts human” and say Russ’s personality is “as a dead as a computer”.

Junior Jews Russ resembles a computer in many ways. For example, both are Jewish.

The father of the modern computer was John von Neumann, a Jew of German descent. After living in Hungary, he fled the Nazis and became a famous U.S. mathematician.

The father of Russy-poo Walter was Henry Walter, a German Jew who fled the Nazis and became a famous U.S. dental salesman. To dentists, he sold teeth, dental chairs, and balloons to amuse the kids while their mouths were mauled.

The race for brains To try beating the computer, Russ got his bachelor’s degree in math from Dartmouth in yummy ‘69 and sadly stayed a bachelor for many years (unless you count the computer he got married to).

After Dartmouth, he got an M.A.T. in math education from Harvard. Since he went to Harvard, you know he’s a genius. Like most genii, he achieved the high honor of being a junior-high teacher.

After his classes showered him with the Paper Airplane Award, he moved on to teach at an exclusive private school for girls who were very exclusive. (“Exclusive” means everyone can come except you.)

After teaching every grade from 2 through 12 (he taught the 2nd-grade girls how to run the computer, and the 12th graders less intellectual things), he fled reality by joining Wesleyan University’s math Ph.D. program in Connecticut’s Middletown (the middle of Nowhere), where after 18 months of highbrow hoopla he was seduced by a computer to whom he’s now happily married.

Married life After the wedding, Russ moved with his electrifying wife to Northeastern University in Boston (home of the bean and the cod), where he did a hilarious job of teaching in the naughty Department of “Graphic Science”. After quitting Northeastern and also editorship of Personal Computing, he spends his time now happily losing money by publishing this book.

Since his wife was lonely, he bought her 40 computers to keep her company, with names such as “Anita Atari”, “Aphrodite the Apple”, “Baby Blue Burping Bonnie”, “Coco the Incredible Clown”, “Jack the Shack”, “Kooky Casio”, “Slick Vic”, and “Terrible Tina with her Texas Instruments”. He hid them in a van and drove them around the country, where they performed orgies and did a strip tease, to show students a thing or two about computer anatomy.

Banned in Boston, Russ and his groupies moved north, to Somerville. In 1998, when Somerville became an overpriced slumville, they moved further north, to New Hampshire, which dubs itself “the granite state”, since Russ has rocks in his head.

That year, Russ became a bigamist: though still married to a computer, he also married a human. Russ is strange, but his human wife is even stranger — a young philosopher from China. The couple is called “Russy-poo old and Pu-pu egg-foo young.”

Russ’s body Here are Russ’s stats, from head to toe:

head in the clouds, hair departing, brow beaten

eyes glazed, lashes 40, nose to the grindstone

mouth off, smile bionic, tongue bitten, teeth remembered

cheeks in a royal flush, chin up, shoulders burdened

wrists watched, hands some, thumbs up

heart all, back got everyone on it, ass unintentionally, buns toasted

knees knocked, heeled well, arches gothic, toes stepped on

He wears a stuffed shirt, slick slacks, and sacramental socks — very holy!

Russ’s résumé We told Russ to write this book because when he handed us the following résumé, we knew he was the kind of author that publishers dream about: nuts enough to work for free!

Age: too. Sex: yes! Race: rat. Religion: Reformed Nerd.

Address: wear pants instead. State: distressed.

Father: time. Mother: earth. Spouse: Brussels.

Occupation: vegetable. Career goal: play dead.

Hobbies: sleeping and crying. Sports: dodging tomatoes.

Greatest pleasure: hiding under the sink. Favorite food: thought.

Humor: less.

About the company

What company? C’mon over, bring milk and cookies, and then we’ll have some helluva company!

Come visit our Home Office, in Russ’s home. It includes our Production Department, near or in Russ’s bed. Russ gave birth to this book himself; nobody else would dare!

Special services

We do everything possible to make you happy.…

Discounts We give you a 20% discount for buying 2 copies of this book, 40% for 4 copies, and 60% for 60 copies (so you pay just $6.60 per copy). Use the coupon on the back page.

Bulk orders If you give us a prepaid order for least 640 books, we typically give you an even bigger discount: more than 60%! Phone 603-666-6644 and ask about “bulk orders”. Discounts and terms depend on how many books you want, where you want us to ship them, how you plan to distribute them, how many we have in stock, and your track record with us.

Use your past You’re reading the 27th edition. To compute your discount, we count how many copies of the 27th edition you’ve ordered from us so far. For example, if you previously ordered 30 copies of the 27th edition and order 30 more, we say “Oh, you’re up to 60 copies now!” and give you a 60% discount on the second order.

If you got a discount on the 25th or 26th edition because you bought many copies, we’ll give you the same discount on the 27th edition even if you’re buying just one copy.

To get a discount based on past orders, mail us the coupon on the back page. Next to your name, write your phone number and say, “I’m taking a discount because of past orders.”

Free reprints You may copy this book free. Copy as many pages as you like, make lots of copies, and don’t pay us a cent!

Just phone Russ first (at 603-666-6644) and say which pages you’re going to copy. Put this notice at the beginning of your reprint:

Much of this material comes from the 27th edition of The Secret Guide to Computers, copyright 2000 by Russ Walter and reprinted with permission.

Get FREE LITERATURE about the newest complete Guide, in 4 ways:

phone Russ at 603-666-6644 (day or night, 24 hours, he’s usually in)

visit the official Secret Guide to Computers web site,

send e-mail to

send a postcard to Russ Walter, 196 Tiffany Lane, Manchester NH 03104-4782

Then send us a copy of your reprint.

You may give — or sell — the reprints to anybody. Go distribute them on paper, on disk, or electronically by phone. The Guide’s being distributed by thousands of teachers, consultants, and stores and translated to other languages. Join those folks! Add your own comments, call yourself a co-author, and become famous! It’s free!

Books on disks Instead of books printed on paper, you can request books printed on disks. For example, if you’re ordering 4 books, you can scribble this note on the coupon: “Send 3 on paper and 1 on disk.”

We’ll send 1.44M disks in Microsoft Word 7 format. They’ll help you write your own book and develop material to put on a computerized bulletin board or Internet Web site.

If you get books on disk, get at least one book on paper since the disks do not contain our headlines, graphics, special symbols, special fonts, and printer drivers.

Internet We’re on the Internet! Visit our Secret Fun site, It reveals the newest secrets about The Secret Guide to Computers, contains links to other secret fun Internet sites, and lets you send us e-mail. Or just go ahead and send e-mail directly to

Many friends have created other Internet Web sites about Russ Walter and The Secret Guide to Computers.

To find those sites, look at the links on, or use a search engine such as to search for “Russ Walter”. For example, you can read earlier editions of The Secret Guide to Computers, free, at and; you can buy paper copies of The Secret Guide to Computers from online bookstores such as,,, and

Preserved classics You’re reading the 27th edition. We’ve also reprinted earlier editions, which include extra details about the famous old computers and software that became classics.

For example, we offer these editions:

the 26th edition for $6

the 25th edition for $5

the 24th edition for $4

the 23rd edition for $3

the 11th edition’s volume 1 for 30¢

Those insanely low prices are ideal for schools on tight budgets and for low-cost gifts to your friends. For details about those famous classic editions, ask us to send the free “classics memo and order form”.

Blitz courses Russ gives his “blitz” course all over the world. Offered several times a year, it turns you into a complete computer expert in an intensive weekend.

Saturday (from 9AM to 9PM) covers the first four chapters: buyer’s guide, operating systems, word processing, and communication. Sunday (9AM to 5PM) covers the other three: tricky applications, programming, and endnotes.

The entire 20-hour course costs just $50. That’s just $2.50 per hour! To pay even less per person, form a group with your friends. For details, phone or use the back page’s coupon.

Strange stuff We’re developing future editions, videotapes, and The Secret Guide to Tricky Living. Get on our mailing list by using the coupon on the back page. Russ answers questions about life — everything from sex to skunks. Phone 603-666-6644 anytime!