What’s new in the Windows Dev Center part 2: MSDN Library integration

In our first What’s new post, we discussed the new look and feel of the Windows Dev Center.  This experience would only be partially complete if all the documentation was presented in an older style. So, we worked closely with MSDN to improve the way that the “library” content appears on the developer center.  To compare and contrast, here is the older developer center experience:

This evolved into a “lightweight” experience which simplified the table of contents to address feedback that we were getting from customers that the table of contents was getting too long (vertically):

The lightweight experience evolved again into the experience we have today which moves the parent table of contents elements into what we’ve been calling the “breadcrumb” which appears on the top of the site and moving peer elements to the left side of the site:

Note that the navigation links on the top of the site no longer change to the library links.  This way, you know that you’re staying locked into development resources for Windows rather than developer resources all up for Microsoft.

Some related changes have been critical to improving the experience in content such as the ability to integrate video into content (content coming soon!) and the new ratings control (we’ll talk about this in another post).  But at a high level this was one of the most significant updates that we made in the center for BUILD.

See Also

Note that you still can use the “classic” look and feel for any content that appears in the MSDN library.  First, go to the MSDN library and navigate to the section of interest.  Next click the gear icon in the top right section of the page:
Next, change the preferred view to classic:
Thanks James for asking 🙂 
Update 2:
Jeff Braaten wrote a great blog post on how he and his team engineered the integrated library experience, or, “An MSDN Library for the Windows Dev Center“. And also pointed out that the major benefit of the “Lightweight” UI for MSDN made a huge difference in how much real estate was available to the content area.
Comments (11)

  1. James Johnston says:

    I still prefer the "classic" MSDN.  The reason why is that MSDN is still structured in a deep hierarchy and to me, nothing beats navigating that better than a tree view.  The new MSDN styles feel like I'm navigating with blinders on – it's like following a path with my eyes closed.  I've always turned MSDN back to the classic style every time I go to it.

    Unfortunately I can't seem to get this classic style with the Windows 8 documentation.  Can we *please* get classic style as an option with this documentation?  Alternatively, offer a more conventional tree view with the new style of documentation as an option (i.e. instead of a simple list box of topics on the left, show a tree view *if* the user desires).  Nothing beats the speed of exploring unfamiliar documentation by just clicking a few pluses and minuses.

    For analogy – the new MSDN would be like if the Windows team completely removed the folder view from the left side of Windows Explorer, and left us hanging with only the breadcrumbs in the address bar.

  2. gclassy says:

    @James, just added a brief update. Hope this helps!

  3. @gclassy: Thanks for the quick & personal response!  I long ago found the "Classic" view that you mention in your update, and I've left it on that setting for months now.  It isn't perfect, but it gets the job done and honestly I don't have a lot to complain about with that view.

    The reason for my comment is the new Windows 8 documentation on MSDN.  As an example, here's the new MSDN topic version for InternetOpenUrl that seems to have come online last week during BUILD:  msdn.microsoft.com/…/aa385098(v=VS.85).aspx

    And here's the old topic that's been around for months: msdn.microsoft.com/…/aa385098(VS.85).aspx

    Unfortunately, the new topic doesn't have the "Preferences" gear that you discuss to allow for switching back to classic.  If it does, I haven't found it!  In contrast, the old topic / MSDN that you took screenshots of does continue to get "classic" tree view.  I understand the former is prerelease documentation and not finished yet.  But the scary thing is that it seems like my favorite "classic" view is going away for good like it's horribly out of style when the next version of Windows comes out – if this new MSDN is any indication.  (I especially wonder, since "classic" sounds an awful lot like "legacy" or "obsolete").

    Why do I love my tree view so much?  Consider the previous topic on InternetOpenUrl.  Suppose I want an overview and want to read "Handling Errors".  With classic view, I scroll up and see "Using WinINet" is a sibling of "WinINet Reference".  I click the plus, and then click "Handling errors".  If I don't know exactly where to look, the list of all siblings at each level in the hierarchy and the ability to expand one without reloading the entire page is a *huge* help.  Now take the new style MSDN view.  The only way to back up the hierarchy is via breadcrumbs at the top.  I click "Windows Internet", causing a page reload.  Then I click "Using Windows Internet" – another page load.  Finally I can click "Handling errors".  That's two entire unnecessary page loads that weren't required under Classic.  If the documentation is not familiar to me (e.g. suppose I clicked on "WinINet Reference" instead of "Windows Internet" in the breadcrumbs), then I have to guess which is the correct area (lack of view of siblings is a killer).  That results in more page reloads if I get it wrong.

    To add to the annoyance, I typically use Google to search for MSDN topics by name (e.g. name of API).  This has worked great for me for years, as the MSDN topic is typically the first hit even if I don't specify MSDN by name.  Unfortunately, these new Windows 8 topics that don't support classic view have been regularly coming up as the first Google hit now and the older version requires some digging to find.  (If the newer topics supported Classic view, I wouldn't mind this.)  So this has had an immediate, negative impact on my productivity.

    I would imagine that the "classic" view is based on a bunch of old source code and you're looking to get rid of it longterm.  To be honest, the new MSDN style isn't bad – it just needs the option to show and navigate a tree view without page loads and I would probably be fine with using it.

  4. gclassy says:

    @james To get to the topic you're looking at if you reach it through the dev center, remove the "/windows/" section from the URL.  In your example:




    Hope this helps!

  5. @gclassy: that works for the example you gave, and takes care of most of my day-to-day problems now when programming Win32 on released versions of Windows.  It's annoying but workable.

    But it doesn't work well for the newer Windows 8 Metro style APIs.  For example:


    I delete "windows/" following your suggestion, and got:


    In this case the second URL does display the Windows 8 topic in Classic view.  Unfortunately, the tree view on the left doesn't expand the hierarchy to the appropriate location.  (I honestly don't think the correct hierarchy is even being displayed in the tree view to begin with: the breadcrumbs on the top aren't really there, and navigation in Lightweight view doesn't work either).

    Not a big deal for the moment since I'm working on Windows 7, but when I get into Windows 8 programming it's going to be really obnoxious…

  6. gclassy says:

    @James thanks for the feedback, I'll make sure we try and keep MSDN users like you in mind as we move forward with any further changes, improvements, or enhancements. I'll see also if there's another solution that could be helpful for people looking for the tree view and will write another blog post on it if I do.

  7. Phil says:

    For what it is worth, I agree combletely with James. I hope there will be a way to automatically get a tree view without having to edit the URL like I have to now.

  8. Ben says:

    I agree with James.

    In addition to the tree, the classic look also has the advantage of using the whole width of the browser, which is great on 1920 screens. The Dev Center look feels cramped to me, it's too bad all this white space on the left and right is not being used.

    Thankfully the "removing /windows/desktop" trick still works (or "/windows/apps" etc).

    It's great that the Microsoft team is listening to users like that, thank you gclassy!

  9. Okay so now microsoft seems to be intent on eliminating the classic view – I saw this today on MSDN:

    "This view of the MSDN and TechNet Libraries will be replaced soon with the Lightweight view. Try it now by clicking the Lightweight link above."

    Let me be clear, this new lightwieght view is terrible on the eyes with all it's gray and low contrast. I can't read it for any length of time, it's really bad. Why eliminate the classic view? What is Microsoft gaining by this, seriously!? Also the tree view in 'classic' is great. So again: LIGHTWEIGHT stinks for readibility, I absolutely hate it as do I hate the gray theme and colorless icons of VS2012.

  10. Graham Wideman says:

    Lightweight view has been the bane of my existence ever since it started to pop up in google — like Phil above, I have to figure out how to edit the URL to get to classic view so I can get a properly working navigation tree to all neighboring topics.

    The lite tree on Lightweight is useless. When a page initially arrives, the tree is opened so as to show only topics on the path leading to the current page, and no neighbors. If you open and close various nodes you can show more neighbors, but then the tree forgets the path to the current page, so you're totally lost.  

    The fonts are also too large (so not enough shown) and the left col size select button is a diabolical example of user-hostility: a multi-click select that moves while you're clicking!

    Doing away with classic nav will make MSDN library incoherent and virtually unusable for me. Not just a speculation, it's already demonstrated by Lightweight.

    Graham Wideman

    Former Visio MVP (and continuing developer and frequent user of MSDN library)

  11. Seeing that the classic view is about to be eliminated, I'm guessing Microsoft doesn't give 2 craps about what the developers think.

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