Microsoft Developer's Network CD


Microsoft Developer Network
One Microsoft Way
Redmond, Washington 98052-6399


Microsoft Developer Network CD

List Price

$195 per year of quarterly updates


Every Windows programmer should have a DevNet CD. The necessity of updates is questionable, but they may be a cost-effective alternative to an endless stream of book-and-disk sets.

It's over a year now

since I wrote that Rule Number One for Windows development was Know A Guru. Windows is just full of problems that you can't really solve by reading and rereading reference manuals. But times change, and if that's still Rule One, Rule Zero is surely Use The DevNet CD.

In February, I followed Dan Appleman's advice and bought both a CD-ROM drive and the second pre-release CD, "CD2". CD2 has easily answered more tough questions than I have room to even mention here. It's fun, too: As with a dictionary or encyclopedia, you can open it to answer one question, and end up reading about two or three others that sound interesting or that might be useful someday.

What the DevNet CD is

Like most paper manuals, the Developer's Network CD tries to serve as both a reference and as an introduction. As a reference, it's a most impressive success, and my SDK manuals only seem to get used these days when I stick slips of paper in the three or four places I'll need to look at all day long. The entire contents of the SDK, various technical manuals and popular glosses on Microsoft products from DOS 5.0 and C7 to Visual C++ and Word for Windows, and Microsoft's "knowledge base" of standard answers to common questions have been put on the CD. They've transferred the layout and illustrations, too: in small doses, CD-based articles are as easy on the eyes as the book or magazine-based originals. (In large doses, though, stretching 640x480 screen shots onto larger screens really grates.)

The whole CD has been exhaustively indexed, so you can search for any word or phrase, or logical combinations thereof. While CD2's performance was on the sluggish edge of tolerable, CD3 indexs and stores everything more efficiently, so that searches and loads are much faster. Fast enough, in fact, that you can do many searches without losing your patience - and I haven't encountered many questions that couldn't be answered after only a few searches. Whether it's one of those off-hand references to seemingly tangential topics scattered throughout the SDK or a whole white paper on just your question, search will find it and let you move on, with your problem solved.

What the DevNet CD is not

While Microsoft is promoting the CD as the best way to stay current on new APIs as they're released, it is probably the CD's problem-solving face that will sell the most copies. When it comes to reading large bodies of text, as when you're plunging into new territory like multimedia or OLE 2, I still prefer to read a book. Not only can I carry the book around with me, but many topics overflow my old 800 by 600 screen, and I don't like how much I have to move my hands to go from paging within a topic to moving between topics.

There's no doubt, though, that the CD is both cheaper and uses a lot fewer resources than a shelf full of books that you only read once - if at all. While Microsoft quite sensibly puts the content ahead of the UI, I'm sure that both will continue to improve, even if the CD may never be as delightfully usable as, say, Word for Windows.

Usability and environmental issues aside, there's at least one way in which the DevNet CD is not going to totally replace the various book-and-disk Development Kits. While there is a vast wealth of sample code and executable utilities on the CD, some of the specialized Development Kits are present only as manuals: No utilities, no sample code, no header files.

Finally, the last thing the CD is not is ... not available except by subscription. At nearly two hundred dollars for four quarterly updates! I wish I could like the subscription plan as much as I like the CD, but I can't. I'm sure I'd rather pay $75 or even $100 a disk - when I feel like it - than two hundred a year.

I think

While I don't like the subscription price, Microsoft's Developer's Network CD is a wonderful product that's going to sell a lot of CD-ROM drives. It may even inspire a wave of attempts to cut support costs by giving users faster and better answers from a bundled CD than they're likely to get from a phone call.

It's a total joy to use, and will answer just about any question. Get it.

This article first appeared in PC Techniques.

Copyright © 1993, Jon Shemitz - - html markup 6-30-94..10-25-94.
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