Dealing with System Differences in Books

It’s unlikely that there are two computer systems on the planet that are precisely the same. Even if the two systems have precisely the same hardware and software, and the administrator configuring the systems uses an image file so that every setting is in precisely the same place, the two systems will have differences. It could be something as simple as the memory delay for one system is just a tad different than the other system. In fact, timing issues cause programmers more headaches than you might think. Environmental factors also play a role in how two systems work. The temperature in one room might be higher than another—affecting the way the systems work. Everything else considered, the users interacting with the systems will be different. The user is part of the system, after all. Therefore, no matter how hard you try to create two systems that are precisely the same, you’ll fail because there are simply too many variables to consider. These differences, no matter how small and subtle, affect how I write my books. The procedures I write for my books must work well for a wide variety of systems, including the users who are using the book to learn how to perform a task.

Let me state up front that there is always a possibility that a procedure you find in one of my books may not work on your particular system, no matter how much time and effort I put into creating the best procedure possible. I apologize in advance for any errors on my part that hinder your learning. It’s never my goal to make things difficult for anyone—quite the contrary, I take great pleasure in making your life easier. One of the reasons I created my beta reader program is to reduce errors in my books. Another reason is to reduce the chance that you’ll encounter problems with procedures in my books due to system differences. More beta readers mean more test systems and a lower probability that some oddity will get past everyone and make it into my books.

However, the fact remains that no amount of effort on my part will ever produce a procedure that always works on absolutely every system on the planet because each system is unique. I can’t possibly test the procedure on absolutely every system out there—much as hardware vendors can’t foresee potential conflicts or software vendors can’t predict a particular system combination that will cause an application to fail. In fact, given the limited resources at my disposal, it’s quite possible that you’ll encounter a problem with a procedure. When this happens, I invite you to contact me at We’ll work together on a solution to the problem you’re experiencing with the procedure. When a problem is severe enough, I’ll post an update for that book on my blog so that everyone can benefit. After all, the purpose of my books is to help you learn how to do something interesting with your computer system.

There are a few things you can do to reduce the potential for problems with the procedures in my books. The following list contains the difficulties that I encounter most often and solving these issues often helps my readers get back on track with the book.

  • Use the software and hardware that the book is designed to work with. Older or newer versions of software and hardware often work differently and cause the procedure to fail.
  • Read the steps carefully and verify that your display looks similar to the one in the book. Differences between my system and your system will sometimes mean that your screen will look a little different from mine, but the screens should at least look similar.
  • Make sure you have the knowledge required to use the book. I’ve been trying to become more careful in stating the knowledge a reader needs as part of the book’s introduction. If you don’t have this knowledge, you’ll find that you have a hard time learning the material.
  • Check your system for failures. In some cases, a reader’s system isn’t working right in the first place and the failure of the procedure merely mirrors this fact.

I always want to hear from my readers. Your e-mails to me brighten my day because I know someone is using the material I’ve worked so hard to create. I’m quite serious when I say, “Contact Me, Please!” Please do make sure to follow the guidelines in my Sending Comments on My Books post when sending me e-mail so that I have the information needed to help you as quickly as possible.