The company behind Magento, Varien, recently published their own Magento User Guide. This is a few months after Packt Publishing released my Magento Beginner's Guide. If you're looking for a book to help you use Magento, you might want to know how Varien's book and mine compare. I'll try to answer that question for you in a way that enables you to decide which book is better for your needs.
Is there really a difference between a Beginner's Guide and a User Guide?
After 20 years as a technical writer and trainer, I have come to the conclusion that yes, you will notice a difference between a Beginner's Guide and a User Guide. The differences are in the scope and flow of the book. And I think you will see those differences between Magento User Guide and Magento Beginner's Guide.
Scope: Reference Librarian versus Coach
If you read the User Guide table of contents, and the Beginner's Guide table of contents, you can see that the User Guide covers more of Magento's functions. Yet, it has fewer pages. It covers more features than the Beginner's Guide, but usually with less detail.
In the Beginner's Guide, the step-by-step directions are usually more detailed than those in the User Guide. And, the Beginner's Guide includes some business intelligence. That is, not just how to use a feature, but also when and why.
If the books were people, the User Guide would be a reference librarian and the Beginner's Guide would be a coach.
Flow: Jump In and Out, or Go For a Ride
Both books work as reference material. The User Guide usually gives you just enough information to make a function or feature work. It answers the question, "How do I do this?" and then returns you to your work.
The Beginner's Guide tells you how to use Magento's basic functions while building an example store. The example runs through the book. So you will see not only how each function is used, but also when and why it is used, and what effect it has on your customer's experience. You can work through the book from front to back if you want to follow the example. Or, you can use it as a reference guide.
So which do I recommend?
Neither. I recommend that you consider your own situation. Do you prefer a reference guide, like the one supplied by the official Magento Online User Guide or Knowledge Base? Or do you prefer a step-by-step Beginner's Guide to coach you through building your store? You might find them both useful: the Beginner's Guide to show you how to create and run the store, and the User Guide to provide a quick reference for many of Magento's features.
Do your research, dive in, and let me know how it goes!