Sunday, February 11, 2007

Website Review: In Pictures

My mother, while not completely hopeless with computers, does have a certain naivety with them. She once called me in the middle of the night telling me "the internet is down" when her dial-up modem gave her a busy signal. When she said her email client wasn't displaying properly I noticed she had somehow made the window tiny. I fixed it by maximizing its window. The list goes on.

Where she leaves me in the dust, however, is in her understanding of Microsoft Office. We were testing OpenOffice to see if it would replace Microsoft Office for her, and she had lots of questions to which I had no answers. Off we went to the online OpenOffice help and the web.

While we eventually got her questions answered it made me realize how little I know about using an office suite. I use it mainly for opening existing documents, writing letters, and using existing templates for projects such as cards or CD covers. When I was alerted to In Pictures I decided to give them a try.

In Pictures offers tutorials on Microsoft Office 2003, OpenOffice 2.0, Dreamweaver 8, Fireworks 8, and HTML & CSS. They seem to update their tutorials regularly; Fireworks 8 was just recently added, and their website says Office 2007, Photoshop, MySQL, and PHP tutorials are coming soon. They also offer downloadable PDF files and bound books of their tutorials for an additional cost.

Their philosophy is "The simpler, the better." The tutorials are given with black and white screenshots, with red markers showing you points of interest or where to click next. The lessons are given step by step, with explanations of what you are actually doing throughout.

The first tutorial I tried was for OpenOffice's database component Base. I had never used Base before, but while following the tutorial I was amazed at how much I was actually understanding. I was really grasping the concepts, rather than just clicking through the steps. The screenshots show you exactly what to do and the steps are easy to follow, clearly explaining what you are doing.

When I tried the Writer tutorial for OpenOffice I was tempted to skip ahead to the more advanced sections, but decided to plod through from beginning to end. I'm glad I did. While I was bored at first by being shown very basic operations, there were always little things that came up that I never thought of doing. That's one of the valuable things about tutorials. They can show you how to do the things you want to do, but can also show you things you never thought of doing.

Of course, you don't have to start at the beginning. Each tutorial is divided into sections, so you can navigate to the area you are most interested in learning. You already know how to use bullets, but want to use footers to number pages automatically? Just go to the "Employ Headers and Footers" section.

In Pictures has been useful for my mother in learning the differences between Microsoft Office and OpenOffice. She knows all the tasks she needs to complete, she just needs to know how to do them in OpenOffice. The tutorials won't cover all the advanced features she needs, but it will give her confidence and a solid footing.

In Pictures is a great place to get started in learning new software, or in covering gaps of knowledge in software you already use. Worth trying out.

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