How often do YOU press F1 and expect a real answer?

This isn't about the woeful help facilities in most "modern" software. That's another rant for another day. With the advent of Desktop Search as a core operating system feature for Vista, I've been asking some pointed questions. Without saying more than that, I'd like to conduct an unscientific straw poll (what other kind is there?) about your usage of reference material. I get to observe a new development shop every couple of weeks (such is the life of a consultant), so I've already gathered lots of anecdotal evidence by observation, but I'd like to hear from a much broader audience. Were I a program manager for something, I'd make every effort for the poll to have some sort of statistical validity, but I'm not – I'm just curious.

There are several different reference libraries that we publish via subscription and downloadable updates: MSDN, TechNet, Books Online, ephemeral SDKs out the wazoo, etc. They're pretty good in each niche. In my opinion, they're much better and cheaper than the alternatives that you can beg, borrow or steal for other competing products (when such documentation can be had at all). But I wonder what fraction of the developer communities actually bothers to install them and keep them up to date?

  1. If you're a developer who uses Visual Studio (any version), do you install and use the MSDN Library?
  2. If you're a subscriber, do you install the updates that you get in the mail?
  3. If you're a SQL Server developer or DBA (any version), do you install and use Books Online? (It's included with the tools unless you do an advanced setup specifically omit it.)
  4. The reference libraries are updated pretty regularly. Did you know that?
  5. Did you update all the systems that you have them installed on?
  6. Do the reference libraries work the way that you wish they would?
  7. If you don't use these reference materials to answer your day to day questions about usage, syntax, etc, how do you find those answers?

Well, you know what they say about curiosity and the cat. Good thing that I'm a dog person, eh?

Comments (3)

  1. Jeff Parker says:

    1. Well yeah, you would be silly not to. It is mighty hefty though

    2. Yes I do, the biggest problem with these though is I Really wish it would overlay they old one. Man does this really take up space on a laptop. Throw a few Virtual PC’s on there and you are full. I have even had to copy the MSDN library off to an external drive before to have enough space to even run defrag.

    3. I do advanced setup, but I never omit it. And yes I use this all the time. I do wish this was more integrated into MSDN library though, if it is it is a pain the find and look up anything sql in there. But if I am writing stored procedures, or building a database or anything like that, then the SQL and especially Transact SQL is up on one monitor.

    4 Not sure what you are talking about as far as reference libraries. If you are talking about the sections like C# and and even web development sections or coding4fun on MSDN then yes, otherwise I am not sure what you mean by reference sections.

    5 Yes, I update everything regularly.

    6 See notes above on some common gripes I have with them. The biggest one is the overlaying thing. You install one full MSDN lib and that what 3 gigs or about there. You get an update, and well that’s another 3 gigs and the old one is left on there. Over a years time I end up completed uninstalling all the different versions and then installing the latest one again to cut 15 gigs off a drive. Would be much better to just upgrade the MSDN docs rather than keep installing the same 3 gigs over and over.

    7 I use these for day to day questions all the time, however not all them are easy to find. If I do not find in a minute or two of searching then well I hate to say it but I am off to Google, Live is getting there but Google is still a habit I am trying to break. Simple example, a couple hours ago I went to look up to see if I could find a little more info on the TimeSpan IComparable<t> interface to make it do some different sorting. A couple quick clicks in the TimeSpan class and through the members and didn’t see anything I was off to search the web. Which got me my answer in the first 2 results.

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