Microsoft has renovated the MSDN site to try and make it a more attractive home for developers. The attempt seem to have been miscalculated with accusations that marketing has its place, but not in a technical site.
Microsoft has a problem in that its legacy technology forms a huge back catalog of documentation. The problem is that, when Microsoft decides to move on, it regards the old stuff as being something it would rather forget. The even bigger problem is that the programmers that Microsoft managed to persuade to use the last generation of technologies don't want, and can't, forget.
If you have been a Microsoft programmer for long enough you probably can't forget the retreat from Visual Basic 6 as the pressure was applied to move to .NET. Microsoft has never been subtle in the way it attempts to move its developer community onto whatever thing it regards as the latest thing to save its future.
We should have known that with a revamp of MSDN would come a burying of the past when we first reported it two weeks ago. Soon afterwards the complaints started - not just about the lack of support for the older technologies and the Desktop in particular, but that the site was little more than a marketing exercise.
It does look very pretty and you could say that its critics are mistaking a makeover for marketing. But in the list of "Use your skills", where is the "I build Desktop apps"? There is a "I build Windows Apps" but when you click on it you are sold the virtues of submitting your app to the Windows Store. You have to consider this, and the rest of the page, as nothing but marketing. Isn't there anything else you can classify as a Windows App other than a WinRT app? As to technical content - well it must be close to zero.
This is not what visitors to MSDN generally want.
Now Brian Harry, who announced the new MSDN only a few weeks ago, has a blog post which seems to be saying that Microsoft might have got things a little wrong - at least some of the things:
"First, thanks for all the feedback, even if some of it is a bit brutal...
Let me comment on some of the feedback.
1. I can’t find anything but Windows Store app stuff.
Mea culpa. Yep. We messed that up...
We’re working on rectifying that quickly. We’ll have some cloud developer content online this week and I hope we’ll have updates every week for the next several as we build out the site to represent the breadth of the platform we intend it to. As we bring the additional content online, I’d certainly appreciate additional feedback on how we can make it a great experience."
Despite the "so sorry and we messed up" message, the first thing that is going to be added is something on Azure which is Microsoft's other new technology aiming to crush the old. It would have been more convincing if the first item had been something on WPF say. But we can only wait to see if it becomes any easier to find "legacy" material.
"2. The site has too much of a marketing feel to it.
Certainly adding a little bit of marketing feel in the sense of representing the “why” component was intentional. However, like any developer, I too have an aversion to anything that feels too much like marketing..."
Again we will have to wait to see if the site becomes useful rather than just propaganda.
The point is made that most people end up on the correct MSDN technical content by search rather than through the home page. This might be true, but having it presented as something coherent would help. It would also be nice to feel that the Microsoft world isn't just WinRT apps and Azure - at least for a while longer.
Ask yourself where is Silverlight in all this?
The de-emphais on the desktop is doing no-one any good. Microsoft is only big on the desktop and yet planning to create a new desktop app is a tough problem - how can you decide what to use and what to avoid? In promoting WinRT and Azure Microsoft is helping to kill the desktop well before its time.
One of the big things that would help us all, and I'm not suggesting it is the only thing, is if Microsoft gave a clearer indication of what technologies were favoured for the future. For example, should we use WPF or Windows Forms? Is ASP.NET Forms dead? What about older APIs? Perhaps they could be color coded:
- Green - the latest thing to prefer over others
- Yellow - OK to use, but if you can avoid it do
- Red - use for existing projects only
Documentation isn't easy and Microsoft isn't going to please everyone, but using MSDN as a marketing site isn't going to please anyone.