A Universe of Answers
When you have a narrow, specific problem that needs troubleshooting, the Knowledge Base is the place to go.
- By Steven B. Levy
- October 01, 2001
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
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
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,
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.