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I have always had this question in my mind and I would really be happy to get an explanation for this. Is it only me or do you also feel the same way that it's hard to find anything on MS site. For example, every time I need to download .NET framework I have to Google it. You never know what you can download, no category for downloads. You are simply left to a search field. You never know if you downloaded the latest version of the file. The tragically true is that you have to rely on their competitor Google to find anything on their site. I know that they are a big company.

  • But is it really that hard to have an organized way to publish information?
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Like you, I can't believe it has to be that disorganised. A similar thing that irritates me is their context sensitive help. Years ago, when you pressed F1 in an IDE, it took you direct to the correct page. Nowadays in Visual Studio, it takes you direct to the wrong page. I mean, the IDE does know that I'm working on (say) a .Net 3.5 WinForms application. So why take me to a page about the correct class member, but relating to the framework for a beta release of Silverlight 4? Or, sometimes, totally the wrong topic? –  MarkJ Feb 25 '11 at 12:48
    
You apparently have not tried Bing. Let bing make decisions for you! /sarcasm –  Chris Feb 25 '11 at 13:29
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Just use filehippo.com or ninite.com –  Sergio Feb 25 '11 at 13:29
    
@Amir see my answer, it has an actual solution (There is a page with all products and you can easily navigate to the .net Download link) –  gideon Feb 25 '11 at 13:31
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Have not noticed the problem. I'm always able to find what I'm looking for pretty easily. Search works really well on their sites for me. –  Brian Knoblauch Feb 25 '11 at 14:38

8 Answers 8

up vote 14 down vote accepted

I think you have Microsoft confused with a corporation that cares about the free downloads. Don't get me wrong, I have met and talked to several people from Microsoft and they are smart, intelligent, and nice people. However, Microsoft is more like Oracle in the sense that they know how to make money. If you make it difficult to find free stuff, people end up buying the (now) reasonably cost alternative. In short, it's simple business. Remember, they don't have to compete with and differentiate themselves from all the other businesses out there, so it really isn't in their best interest to make it easy for you to find the free downloads.

Bottom line, the MS site has to promote a lot of different products. If you want helpful information, you need to go to MSDN. MSDN is a mass of information of varying levels of helpfulness. In my experience it tends to be 100% right, and 100% useless. But I'm trying to do things that doesn't match their API exactly--things which they've done but haven't released to the public. MSDN is very difficult to organize, as is any knowledge base. Marketing is easy to organize, and you emphasize what you want people to do.

Your free downloads are somewhere in between MSDN and marketing, and as a result just don't get emphasized.


Note about Apple's website: There's plenty of marketing (just like MS), and the downloads are pretty easy to manage. However, if you have any kind of technical issue, they do not have a knowledge base that is nearly as useful as MSDN. Unfortunately, that's not saying much. You get more help from third party forums and Q&A sites than you do from Apple itself. I'm hoping that Apple figures out how to change this.

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+1 @Berin I agree and I find MSDN very helpful. But finding download for .NET framework should be in their interest. Even if it's free. –  Amir Rezaei Feb 25 '11 at 13:03
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I guess I could be a bit more clear. MSDN is very helpful in introducing what's available with the APIs. Where it falls short is when you have more than introductory needs. To be fair that is a very difficult problem to address. –  Berin Loritsch Feb 25 '11 at 13:05
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+1 : for "confusing Microsoft with a corporation that cares about the free downloads" –  Ranger Feb 25 '11 at 13:12
    
+1 for MSDN is difficult to organize, have you seen google documentation, the Picasa API docs a few months ago was for v1.6 Google Data Lib but the latest version of the lib was 1.7 released weeks ago. –  gideon Feb 25 '11 at 13:12
    
I haven't. I'm just familiar with that type of problem. –  Berin Loritsch Feb 25 '11 at 13:22

Not really. It's pretty much their own fault and they should definitely consider implementing basic things like Categories and so on. I'm not an Apple Person, but if you look at their download section one can easily find System Updates, Third Party Programs and Drivers.

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But is it really that hard to have an organized way to publish information?

I don't think so. For a company that size should have a better search mechanism. I completely agree with you. I don't even bother going to MS anymore, I just Google what I need to be redirected to their page. I forgot how many times (weren't few, believe me) I got stressed because I couldn't find the download I needed. Then I just googled the word and there it was. It's a shame for them.

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Simply: there is no competition out there. You can't go to a competitor's website and download what you need. Therefore, they don't have much commercial reason to improve their website functionality, it's pretty much left to inertia.

As parts of their business is (slowly) being taken over by competition, I expect them to improve their website at one point, but knowing how large they are I don't expect that to happen soon.

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I think this disorganization may be intentional. There are 2 basic sections to their MSDN site, paid subscription and freeloader. The paid side is extremely well organized, and I have no trouble finding anything that I need directly. I will agree with you that the public side leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to information organization and retrieval. Perhaps they want you to wander around and linger or maybe it's just a crazy marketing ploy to get you to pay for the MSDN subscription.

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Here are a few reasons i have noticed:
1. Marketing MS instead of providing useful always will be busy in marketing their products if you search for "C# Tutorials" you will get the results like "What MS offers to students" or "10% discount on Certification"
2. Self Praise Instead of giving useful info sites will be filled with "We Achieved this, that". Last time searched for VS2010 express free download and i was navigated to "How VS makes you more Productive" and after that "Try VS2010 Ultimate".
To be honest i am not saying MS websites are total waste but i mean they must work on great resources like MSDN rather than other promotional work. Fine products like C# doesn't need too much marketing they just need enough Tutorials, Expert Interviews, Learning Path for young Students etc.
I will recommend them to be straightforward like Oracle, Python etc .

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+1 I agree. It seams to market unit has more to say about the web site. –  Amir Rezaei Feb 25 '11 at 13:05
    
Wow... microsoft.com -> products -> visual studio -> express. so freaking difficult, isn't it? really, it's a wonder anyone has ever used a microsoft product they're so irrational with their site layout. –  TZHX Feb 25 '11 at 14:12

Um Amir to be a little frank I really don't get what the problem is:

  1. Open your favorite web browser
  2. Visit http://www.microsoft.com
  3. The first thing on the menu is Products
  4. Click on See all Products.

Scroll down and have a good view of that page, how many downloads do you think microsoft will have all in all. Think service packs, updates, tools, trials for each of those products.

You'll find .NET Framework under developer tools right on top, click it and it will take you to the .NET Dev Center, which has a "Get .NET Link" on the side.

Sure, I will tell you I'm an MS fanboy, but if watch a little channel9 you'll understand how large they are. If you wanted the Google Data Library I'm sure as a developer/expert user you would just google it, but they will also have a slightly frustration way to navigate to it.

People even complain about MSDN, just consider the volume, there is no other documentation that large, comparing Java to the C# msdn docs is silly, C# is only one of 4 languages for .NET which itself is one out of a few hundred developer tools and products. There was a time MSDN came on CDs, I remember having a whole friggin pack of them!

Just like http://www.stackoverflow.com the internal search sucks but Jeff and Team clearly know you will find your answers through google, I'm sure MS knows that too.

Update: I just basically want to say, these problems, will probably exist for any large site, the MS site, is one of the largest sites in terms of products, docs, downloads etc and certainly it would be hard to find things. But I see a lot of general silly MS hatred for no reason and I just don't like this too much. =(

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@giddy What about all other developer tools you never will find since you don’t know the name of them. It should be the other way around. A download section with category shouldn't be that hard. They may not be able to put up everything there, but they could try. –  Amir Rezaei Feb 25 '11 at 13:33
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@giddy I'm sorry but I don't agree with that. I don't think any company should excuse their poor search system just because they assumed people would use his competitor to find stuff on their website. –  eestein Feb 25 '11 at 13:37
    
@Amir well thats what the product list is, isn't it? Each product will have tons of downloads so instead you go to the product page first and then you see a list of downloads there. –  gideon Feb 25 '11 at 13:45
    
@eestein I was only talking in terms of efficiency, i mean googling is the fast way to find a page, so if you're looking for a fast of doing things there it is, but of course, its not like the pages and categories don't exist. –  gideon Feb 25 '11 at 13:48
    
@giddy They're there indeed. You just have to make an effort to find. I'm not talking as one MS opposer. I'm a partner of a company that develops C#/.Net software using VS2010, SQL Server 2008 and WCF! So as you see, I'm not against MS. Still, I don't like their website. It's "easy" to find the most common products, but more "uncommon" products are pretty hard to find without Google's help. As I said earlier, I forgot how many times I got stressed because I couldn't find the download I needed. EDIT: and I agree with @Berin Loritsch's answer, in my opinion that's the reason. Regards. –  eestein Feb 25 '11 at 14:30

I don't agree that stuff is particularly hard to find in the Microsoft website. It's not any harder than trying to find something specific on Google's website.

For example, have you tried using the search box on the top of Microsoft's website? Type in NET Framework and you'll find download links near the top of the search results and in a dedicated Related Downloads section on the right-hand side of the page. Most other products can be found similarly quickly. I don't know how they could make it any simpler.

There are other options, too. Search for Downloads and you'll find the Microsoft Download Center. (#2 entry in the "Popular Downloads" section? .NET Framework installer.) Search for Developer Downloads and you'll find the MSDN Downloads page. And so forth...

The bottom line is that Microsoft has a huge amount of information on their site, and of course it will be impossible to make it all immediately discoverable. Any good strategy for information dissemination will include multiple ways of finding information, starting with basic search.

I, for one, think they do a pretty good job, considering the amount of information they have to deal with.

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The most difficult sites I've worked with were IBM's and Oracle's. Microsoft's is difficult to work with, but not in their league. –  David Thornley Feb 25 '11 at 15:13
    
You don't even need to search. Go to www.microsoft.com. There's a "Downloads" menu in their main nav. Click on it and it drops down a list. Click "Download Center". Microsoft .NET Framework 4 is right in the top downloads today. Even if it's scrolled off, type ".NET" in the search box and press enter: microsoft.com/downloads/en/… –  John Saunders May 13 '11 at 16:04

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