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Visual C++ 2 for Dummies (1995): You’d Make a Better Door Than a Window

Michael Hyman and Bob Arnson, Visual C++ 2 for Dummies (IDG, 1995)

[originally posted 24Jan2002]

[ed. note 2014: programming for Windows has gotten MUCH easier over the years with visual tools and frameworks. Remember that back in 1995, much of Windows programming was still completed by hand unless you could afford very expensive SDKs.]

Given the existence of a book called C++ for Dummies and the existence of a separate book called Visual C++2 for Dummies, and given the reader of this review knows what Visual C++ 2 is, what would you expect from those two books? Doesn’t it seem like C++ for Dummies would cover the language, and Visual C++2 for Dummies would cover Visual C++2, the changes from the ANSI C++ standard and (more importantly) how to use Visual C++2 to program in Windows?

Perish the thought.

The first quarter, roughly, of Visual C++2 for Dummies does exactly what one would expect it to—covers Visual C++ 2. Installing, creating your first project, doing the “hello world” application in a Windows framework, noting that you’re typing two or three lines of code instead of the thousands the authors estimate it takes to do a Hello World application in Windows (VC++ handles all the underlying code for opening and positioning the window, et al.). Great! Now we’re going to get into the AppWizard options, how to program an MDI interface, what you want to do differently in your classes, and all that stuff, right? Nope. The remaining three hundred pages in the book are an overview of, yes, you guessed it, how to program in C++.

For the record, this book does a better job in some places than does C++ for Dummies; specifically, it has sections on error handling, gives a few paragraphs on templates (which is more than the first book did), that sort of thing. This can probably be explained away by the fact that Visual C++ 2 for Dummies was published a year after its thinner, more anemic predecessor. And these are things an aspiring C++ programmer should know. But if you bought Visual C++ 2 for Dummies, it’s pretty likely you have a copy of Visual C++ 2 and you want to use it for Windows programming. And after touching on the very tip of the iceberg, the book ignores the subject to the point where all of its sample programs (assuming you don’t get the disk, which must be ordered separately from the book—at least, in the one I have, which has a page at the back telling you where to send your cash) need to be programmed as console applications (i.e., they run in a DOS box). “Disappointing” is an understatement along the lines of “Caligula had some emotional problems.”

Unless it’s your very first book on C++ and you’re jumping into the Windows deep end, avoid this. **

About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

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