If you're an MCSE and you don't yet subscribe to TechNet, you really don't know what you're missing!

TechNet Unleashed!

If you're an MCSE and you don't yet subscribe to TechNet, you really don't know what you're missing!

What a timely column to write this month: I've just received the latest issue of my Microsoft TechNet Disc subscription, and it's stamped with those horrible words: "LAST ISSUE!" Needless to say, by the time I finish this column, I will have called the toll-free number and renewed my subscription. Fellow TechNet subscribers surely know how I feel: I hate the thought of missing even one installment of this invaluable resource!

But what about those of you out there who don't yet get TechNet: Do you really understand what you're missing? An MCSE without a TechNet subscription is like a lawyer without a law library! Just as a lawyer uses the resources of a law library to solve problems and serve clients, you should use your TechNet subscription to do the same (I've even billed some clients for my TechNet research time).

If you're not getting TechNet, it's because you have yet to discover what this resource really has to offer. So let's look at exactly what TechNet is and how this CD subscription can benefit you and your clients.

What Exactly Is TechNet?
TechNet subscription consists of a pack of CDs mailed monthly. It usually includes several discs, the heart of which is the Technical Information disk (see Figure 1). The Technical Information disk serves as a guide for everything you receive that month, which can include:

  • Microsoft Resource Kits
  • Service Packs
  • Microsoft Knowledge Base Articles
  • Supplemental drivers and patches.
  • Deployment Guides & Training Materials
  • Evaluation Editions (e.g., the May 2001 edition included Microsoft's SharePoint Portal Server)

Tech. Info Disc
Figure 1. Viewing the Technical Information Disc; the monthly TechNet News Headlines appear by default. (Click image to view larger version.)

If you subscribe to TechNet Plus, you'll get additional disks including beta versions of software and other perks.

TechNet Plus

If you take the TechNet package described in this column and added several more discs containing Beta software releases, you'd have the Plus subscription. Note that the Plus package costs nearly twice as much as the basic TechNet subscription, so you'll want to assure yourself that you truly plan to use the Beta CDs you will receive. In my case, the answer is an overwhelming yes—in the May 2001 mailing, it contained Beta 2 for Whistler Server (a.k.a. Windows 2002 Server).

TechNet Plus
The May 2001 TechNet Plus mailing included all of the discs seen here. Be careful: Month after the month the discs can accumulate and fall into disuse. (Click image to view larger version.)

Aside from the monthly mailings, TechNet has some online components:

  • TechNet online search engine allows you to perform keyword searches against the TechNet library (but be advised this library doesn't appear to be as robust as the Disc subscription).
  • TechNet online community is the Web portal that provide articles, columns, guides, problem solvers and whatever else an MCSE in-house employee or consultant might need to do their jobs better.

More on these online resources later in this column. (Note: You do not have to subscribe to the CD service to use the online resources.)

Whether you subscribe to the TechNet library or the TechNet Plus library, the first month you subscribe to the program, you will receive a Starter Kit that brings you current with all past issues (it's a mega pack containing a baseline of discs in a pretty disc holder!).

Using TechNet
Once you've installed and launched TechNet, no Windows 2000 problem will remain unsolved for too long.

There's too much in every monthly edition for you to browse through, so you're going to be performing a lot of searches. Here's my step-by-step guide for conducting an effective TechNet search:

  1. Start the Technical Information TechNet Disc.
  2. Select Search from the Tools menu (alternatively, you can press CTRL-S or click the Search icon on the Toolbar). The Search dialog box appears.
  3. Populate the Search for: field with terms (typically nouns but verbs are okay too!). Keep the Search Scope set to All Text so the search is as wide as possible. I'd also recommend you keep the Filter set to Entire Contents. I've created an example query in Figure 2 (here, I'm trying to figure out why the names in the To: field of an Outlook e-mail aren't resolved and underlined).
Basic search
Figure 2. A basic search string to be applied against the TechNet knowledge base. (Click image to view larger version.)

  1. Click Search in the Search dialog box. The results of the search are shown in Figure 3.

Search results
Figure 3. The results indicate over 200 items were found based on the search criteria in Step 3. All items are listed in the bottom pane and the selected item is presented in the upper right pane. Note the pane windows can be resized. (Click image to view larger version.)

At first blush, my search resulted in too many hits, so I need to create a more focused search to better find the answer to my problem. You can do this in a couple of ways. First, click the Advanced button on the Search dialog box, which will offer options for narrowing your search criteria. In particular, I want focus on the NEAR means within field. By default, this is set to eight characters. Go ahead and type up that to 12 characters. Next, modify the search field to include another term ("2000") so it returns only Outlook 2000-related hits (fingers crossed!). Finally, in Figure 4 you will notice that I've created a more powerful Boolean search (which uses several mathematical operators and terms, such as NEAR).

Advanced search
Figure 4. Advanced search to solve a problem relating to Outlook 2000 and naming. (Click image to view larger version.)

Tip: NEAR is near and dear to my heart. I basically never create a search in TechNet without using the NEAR term. It's a hidden secret to efficiently performing your research and troubleshooting.

The result is fewer hits (148 topics to be exact). Now click on the Book column in the Results window to sort the hits (remember, when you search entire contents, everything will appear, including chapters from Resource Kits). My hunch tells me to scroll down the Results window and look at the Kbase articles (the nature of my problems suggests it may have been addressed in a Kbase article, not a chapter in a book). Sure enough, I've found the article I'm looking for, as seen in Figure 5.

Figure 5. Success! The article Q246795 details why the automatic name resolution feature stopped working on my client's Outlook installations. Another successful day in MCSE consulting land! (Click image to view larger version.)

Upon reading the article in Figure 5, I see exactly what occurred. This was a client that I had upgraded for Small Business Server (SBS) 4.5 to SBS 2000. That upgraded Exchange 5.5 to Exchange 2000 and created the condition described in article Q246795. When I performed this search for real, my research phase using TechNet took less than 10 minutes, allowing me to provide great service in the form of problem solving to my client. And yes, I billed for my research time in this case.

TechNet Online Search Engine
You can perform the same search for troubleshooting purposes at www.microsoft.com/technet (see Figure 6). Yep, remember that there's an online version and it's free. But I have two pieces of advice using the online TechNet search engine: First, you must have a valid Internet connection that allows you to connect to the TechNet Web site (don't overlook the fact that the problem you might be troubleshooting at a client site is the Internet connection itself). Second, only the general TechNet library (book chapters, white papers, etc.) are searched in default mode. You'll need to click on the Advanced Search link at the top of the TechNet Web page and select the Support and Knowledge Base checkbox to really get the good stuff (that is, the most meaningful hits).

Online search
Figure 6. Performing the exact same search at www.microsoft.com/technet. (Click image to view larger version.)

Tip: I still prefer the CD to the online search when using TechNet. It's not only faster and has a more robust interface, but the discs will return more results by default.

TechNet Online Community
Last and not least are the TechNet resource shown in Figure 7 (the TechNet homepage). This is your troubleshooting portal for reading columns, learning about education events and so on. Use it!

TechNet Home Page
Figure 7. The TechNet home page should be a bookmark in your Web browser (if not the default Web page to appear at startup). (Click image to view larger version.)

Tip: Save those old TechNet discs. Because space on the discs is finite, you'll want to save the disc because dated information is deleted periodically. How else would you troubleshoot Multiplan calculations? For those of you who've been in the industry awhile, you may recall that Multiplan was Microsoft's original spreadsheet program.

Timeless TechNet
Years ago, I wrote an article for MCP Magazine called "MCSE's Toolkit." In that article, I listed TechNet as a "must have" tool. It's still true today. TechNet in its Web- or CD-based form is a required tool for the successful MCSE. Consider using TechNet on the Web to get you started, but get a CD subscription so that you have a lifeline to resources when you don't have a live Internet connection.

See you next month!


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