A Universe of Answers

When you have a narrow, specific problem that needs troubleshooting, the Knowledge Base is the place to go.

Your colleagues or clients depend on you to have the answers to a universe of questions, large and small, about the IT systems they need to do their jobs. As a trained network professional, you have most of those answers. But when you don’t, where should you turn?

Increasingly, MCPs turn to Microsoft TechNet. This massive information resource—available online at www.microsoft.com/technet and by subscription on CD-ROM or DVD—contains an ever-expanding set of resources, already including thousands of articles, white papers and how-to articles, plus newsgroups where expert communities exchange information and experiences. Many of you tell us you turn to TechNet daily and consider it a crucial resource.

We’ve made some significant changes to TechNet in recent months and more are coming. If you haven’t checked out TechNet lately, now’s the time to do so. And if you do use TechNet, let me explain the changes to come and how you can help shape this important resource.

One of the newest features of TechNet, already in evidence and slated to grow, are how-to articles. Several hundred how-to articles give you step-by-step instructions with straightforward answers to questions you may have about implementing Windows 2000 and other Microsoft technologies. How do you provide secure VPN access to a corporate network? How do you set up file/print/fax services? How do you enable collaboration via a Web server? You can find the answers in the how-to section of TechNet, available off the home page.

TechNet’s always provided answers, so how’s this different? This is the first time that TechNet has offered detailed, step-by-step advice to complement the troubleshooting advice long available. The new how-to section makes TechNet a great resource when you’re first planning a solution—not merely when you need help to keep a solution running properly. We’re also writing the how-to articles on two levels—a technically savvy level for those readers dealing with their areas of expertise and a more general level for technical people looking for resources outside of their central expertise.

The second, general level also makes TechNet a great resource for your clients and customers. They can get solid information regarding new solutions—at your suggestion or their own initiative—so that when you plan and implement solutions, they’ll come to the projects with more understanding of your approach and recommendations.

The second major resource on TechNet is its vast library of detailed white papers and other documentation. This part of TechNet includes, for example, prescriptive architecture guidance that can knock three or four months off the planning time for a complex project. When you’re first seeking to get a handle on a major architectural issue, this is the place to go. For example, perhaps you want to set up a “demilitarized zone” to hold data—such as an online product catalog—while protecting corporate data from hackers. TechNet’s white papers can provide the solution guidance to make this possible.

TechNet’s library also includes all documentation for Microsoft products. Sure, documentation is included on or with the disks that ship with most of our products; but if you had to lay your hands on the documentation for every Microsoft product that you or your customers use, could you? For example, if you’re a server administrator or a consultant doing a clean install of Win2K Server into a no-MKM (monitor/keyboard/mouse) data center rack system, then you likely don’t have the documentation installed on the server itself. To have that documentation readily available, you need access to it online.

Having all this content on TechNet is only half of the information solution. The other half is finding what you need when you need it. Search capability has never been more important. My advice to MCPs and other IT professionals seeking a white paper or other documentation through our search engine is to avoid the “general search” tool. Instead, use the “advanced search” tool on the TechNet toolbar and use the Boolean terms option to narrow the search parameters. Beyond that, use specific, technical terms whenever possible. (The most popular TechNet search is on the term, “Windows.”)

If you’re researching a permissions problem, for example, try searching using the technical term—”ACL” or “access control list”—rather than for “permissions.” Another key is to search within results. For example, you may start your search looking for articles related to “IIS 5.0,” and then, within that, search for “ACL.”

We’re currently working to enhance the TechNet search engine to make it more effective for the millions of users who tap it every week. In addition to increased scalability, we’re working to tag keywords for all TechNet content—a staggering 5,000 articles and white papers, plus 300,000 Knowledge Base articles. Watch for these enhancements to come online in fall.

I’ve mentioned the Knowledge Base a few times already. When talking about TechNet, it’s hard to ignore this core resource. When you have a narrow, specific problem that needs troubleshooting, the Knowledge Base is the place to go. It grew out of the internal resources developed by Microsoft’s product support services specialists to respond to support calls from customers, and it’s still used this way. Long ago we realized that many customers, particularly technical professionals, prefer to download and use this information directly, so we made it publicly available.

The origins and nature of the Knowledge Base are its strength and, potentially, its weakness. While the Knowledge Base is superb at addressing narrow troubleshooting problems, it doesn’t address high-level or proactive issues. Nor are most articles written in language appropriate for the average lay customer. But it’s written in a language that gets right to the point for IT pros. As with our white papers, it helps to use technical terms when searching for articles on the Knowledge Base.

The fourth key information resource on TechNet is our group of 1,400 peer-to-peer newsgroup support forums. The newsgroups are an increasingly popular tool. Posts to the newsgroups have climbed 20 percent in the past year, to 600,000 per month. Newsgroups are great sources for troubleshooting, tips and general advice related to Microsoft products. You might consider turning to the newsgroups to augment the answers you get from the Knowledge Base, white papers and documentation, and how-to articles. To make it easier for you to get to the most appropriate newsgroup for your problem or issue, we’re starting to include links to the newsgroups from many of our most popular TechNet articles.

To get the most from a newsgroup query, be specific in describing your problem or question, including the version numbers of products involved. Also, be explicit in your subject line. With so many posts daily, posts with the subject line “Help!” are unlikely to get a response. Keep the post as short as possible; stay on the newsgroup to respond to follow-up questions; and, of course, return the favor by answering questions posed by others, where possible.

How should you take advantage of TechNet? In addition to the online version, TechNet is available offline, on CD-ROM or DVD-based subscription. The offline version includes everything available online, plus a high-quality plastic handle, which adds the advantage of portability. Many MCPs find this a tremendous advantage when they’re out in the field and away from broadband Internet access. TechNet offline brings you approximately four to six new disks per month and includes not only technical content, but patches, service packs and tools. You can also subscribe to TechNet Plus, which includes betas and evaluation copies of server-side products—all the products you need to stay in the advance guard of technology.

You get a lot from TechNet—and I invite you to help others to get a lot from it, too. Contributing to newsgroups is one way. Adding to our how-to content is another. Experts in Microsoft’s product, support and consulting groups are writing the initial round of how-to articles. But no one touches customers’ real-world problems every day in the way you do. This section of TechNet is open to your contributions, and I urge you to contribute to the continued growth of TechNet.

TechNet is your key online resource, but it’s a work in progress. To help make TechNet all you want, please let me know your ideas, interests and needs. You can reach me online at [email protected]. Put “editor” in the subject line. And if you want to keep up with where we’re going—and work with me to help us both get there—check out my monthly column at www.microsoft.com/technet/lastpage/ednote.asp.

About the Author

Steven B. Levy is the product unit manager for Microsoft TechNet.


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