I’m always looking for training on new Microsoft technology and while white papers and sample code have their place they do leave something to be desired. Videos are definitely an improvement and when combined with the aforementioned items work really well but even then problems arise.
The most prevalent being that I have to either install the software I want to evaluate or go through the process of creating a virtual machine (VM). I usually do the latter as cluttering up my machine with software that I may or may not use (especially beta’s) is not something I’m fond of.
There is another option and that is by way of using Microsoft Virtual Labs. Case in point: I recently was looking at Report Builder for SQL Server 2008 R2 and wanted to use it to test out a few scenario's I had in mind. Instead of going through the process of installing the bits locally (provided I even had a copy) or create a VM and then do the install, I used virtual labs instead.
After installing an ActiveX control for remote desktop, I was able to connect with my browser to a Hyper-V image and I was on my way in just a few minutes. No muss, no fuss and best of all when I was done “playing around” there was no residual mess or cleanup needed. Now that’s what I call “easy-peasy.”
Note: If you’re not using a broadband connection your user experience may not be ideal.
I should mention that there’s a time limit (although you can request additional blocks of time) and a downloadable manual. The labs do cover a wide range of products for either developers, IT Pro’s or business decision makers and provides an opportunity to see firsthand what some of the features/capabilities are of a specific software package.
So there you have it - a simple (and free) solution to resolve some of the gaps in learning about new Microsoft centric technology.