Denali Books Online…Online for real!

BOL will not be delivered in the Denali box...but that's a good thing...

When Sybase invented Books Online to support Sybase SQL Server it was one of the first “online” help-systems available. Shipping a few CDs was always more earth-friendly than shipping hundreds of pounds of books that sat on the shelf gathering dust. At Sybase University, we did not print out student manuals; rather a CD was issued with all the materials stored electronically. This saved many trees and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Over 20 years ago, it made sense. It makes sense now. Microsoft has always delivered Books Online with the SQL Server product on the install media. This will change when Denali is released later this year. Microsoft has invested the right resources in keeping Books Online up to date and it shows. It must have been tempting to let the online help system degenerate into a “beginners only” type help-system that is so common in our industry. But to its credit, Microsoft has kept maintaining it so that it still used as much by experts as by newcomers to SQL Server. And of course, now, the latest versions are all available on the web via MSDN. At the SQL PASS conference a few years back, I met with some SQL Server developers in charge of documentation and was asked whether it would be OK to dispense with the local copy of Books Online delivered with the product assuming the availability of the web version. I opposed any such change, suggesting that most SQL Servers are not exposed to the internet for security reasons. Also, as an instructor in the training room, I could not guarantee internet access when performing SQL Server lab work since the images issued from Redmond are locked down without web access. I had [url=http://www.networkworld.com/community/node/36687]blogged[/url] about this before. However, the new Denali strategy sounds promising and has my full support. No longer will Books Online (BOL) be delivered on the install media. It will be a free download. Therefore you will be downloading the latest version every time, up-to-date. In the past, Book Online had to be “frozen” 2-3 months before release date to get on the install disc, missing many late breaking updates. This would be the version of BOL that many people would use, even though a later version was available for download. This would be the version that we used in training as the classroom images were locked down by Microsoft. And, yes, what if the SQL Server is protected securely from the internet? A CAB of the BOL content will be available on the Microsoft Download Centre that can be downloaded from a location that has internet access and can be burnt to disc, copied to a portable drive, or a network share. In addition, the local copy of BOL is now browser-based. This means that the user interface will be identical regardless of whether you are using the local copy or the MSDN version on the internet. The local copy will use the loopback IP address (and does not require IIS, if you were wondering!). Now the documentation team does not have to worry about formatting multiple versions of content. And we have a consistent UI to use. In most cases, we will use client devices to access the latest and greatest version of BOL on the internet via MSDN but the Denali BOL strategy gives us flexibility with the local copy. Once again, it shows that Microsoft is listening to its client base. Well done! Cheers, Brian Ref: No Books Online Content “in the box” http://www.ggpcw.tk/index.php/article/evaluation/2011-01-30/83.html

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