Edition 3 of this book, under the title "Advanced Windows" was such a classic that it rapidly vanished from bookshops. For love or money, no copy could be bought anywhere, and want of any alternative, serious programmers had to beg, borrow or steal a copy to do any real Windows programming.
Rather than reprint, it seems that Microsoft press preferred a new edition, and indeed, it is substantially different from the previous one. It even has a new name, albeit so bland one has no idea what is inside the book. The material has been completely rearranged, and the code samples rewritten, often using C++.
So what is new?
Well, there is the now-obligatory chapter on Unicode, quite unnecessary since it gets more than exhaustive coverage in Petzold's heavily overweight "Programming Windows", fifth edition, where it belongs.
There are chapters on new Windows features, such as Jobs, whereby several processes can be grouped together and have common properties, Fibers, good for fast porting UNIX multithreaded applications to Windows, and Thread Pooling, whereby a pool of threads can be reused without creating and destroying the threads each time.
There are also expanded sections on kernel objects, threads, processes, scheduling, synchronization (possibly a bit overdone), memory architecture and management, memory mapped files, exception handling, basic and advanced dll topics. In all these cases the coverage is extensive and excellent, with full analysis and explanation of what really happens under the hood of the operating system.
Those who regularly read the columns of Pietrek and Richter in Microsoft Systems Journal will recognize some of that material gathered together here. Where necessary, there is also excellent psudo-code showing how the operating system works.
Well, who needs this stuff?
Not a programmer making a simple application with a vanilla GUI. For that, Petzold's "Programming Windows" and Prosise's MFC provide more than enough excellent material. This book is meant for those who need to write power applications, which harness the full potential of the operating system, and even overcome some of its serious bugs and shortcomings. Its hard to understand why Windows is doing things wrong, and write workarounds, unless you have a good idea of what it is meant to be doing. Richter explains very clearly how it is supposed to do its work, and often how to make it cleverer. The first time I saw "Advanced Windows" I wondered who ever needed this stuff, now his books are permanent residents on my desk.
So why do I give it 4 stars, unlike all other reviewers who give it a 5?
Richter writes this book for Windows 2000 and 98, with not a word about NT and 95. Now, 98 is just 95 warmed over, and 2000 is NT 4 tweaked a bit, so most of what he writes is directly applicable. However, there are more advanced functions, and topics, which do not exist on Windows 95, or worse, exist but behave differently (such as the Interlocked function group), and some modules, such as Toolhelp, which exist on 9x and Win2000, but not NT. Microsoft is welcome to introduce new functions, but it is hard to use them if one is writing an application for home users, many of whom will be using 95 for several more years. And unless Microsoft offers us all free upgrades from 95 to 98, and from NT to 2000, we will not be able to safely use these functions for several years yet. I expect any Microsoft reference book such as this one to at least point out these quirks. Instead, there is not a word of warning as to which of the functions it so happily recommends do not exist under the old versions of Windows, and therefore cannot be used by most of its readers. Sorry Richter, no full marks from me, but fix this problem, and I'll give you a 5!