After some months of planning and execution, we’re delighted to present you with the newly redesigned and expanded Data Developer Center on MSDN!

The expanded part here comes from the fact that the Data DevCenter is now home to what used to be two other separate centers, XML and “Oslo”. Actually, the XML DevCenter already joined with Data back in early October more or less intact. The former “Oslo” site, on the other hand, has merged with Data as of PDC 2009, a natural result of “Oslo” becoming SQL Server Modeling and taking a clear place within the larger ecosystem of data development technologies.

The redesign part then really came up as the natural result of this merging. Back in early July, Elisa Flasko (the owner of the Data DevCenter at that time) and myself (owner of the “Oslo” DevCenter) started to explore how best to present all the diverse technologies that we’d be supporting on the merged DevCenter.

The challenges were immediately apparent, as were the opportunities implicit in the solutions to those challenges. For one, the Data and XML DevCenters were very much oriented around currently shipping technologies, as well as ones with a multi-version history. SQL Server Modeling/“Oslo”, on the other hand, was 100% pre-release. But that gave us the clear opportunity to ground our presentation of SQL Server Modeling in the context of the most recently data technologies, like the ADO.NET Entity Framework, as well as the entire arc of data development technologies over the last two decades.

Second was the need to answer a perennial question: with all these different data development technologies, which one do you use for what purpose, and when? It’s a question I’ve been hearing over and over from developers, one that stems from the undeniable fact that after twenty-five years or so, Microsoft’s overall development platform is just plain big. Very, very big! The opportunity, then, was to start exploring ways to help you—the developers who live and breathe MSDN—navigate your way through that bigness, by leading you through distinct steps that quickly reduce the overall surface area of what you need to think about and understand. What we’ve done on the Data DevCenter, which I’ll discuss more in a moment, is our first step.

The third major challenge was to create a DevCenter structure that could continue to support the healthy developer communities that have grown up around the individual technologies while at the same time encourage the growth of an “It’s All Data” community. The opportunity here was to think beyond just having a single community stage—that is, a single aggregation of data-related community blogs—to create “mini-DevCenters” for main individual technologies along with really a “best of” aggregation on the Data DevCenter home page.

And, of course, we had the challenge to do all this in time for PDC 2009, especially with the redesign of MSDN itself in mid-October that had serious implications where page layout was concerned.  But truly, this was an opportunity both to keep ourselves focused and to reevaluate (by necessity!) how we utilized your screen real-estate.

Whew!

Well, we hope that the new Data Developer Center has met these challenges and created a framework upon which we can grow.

Now if you want to continue reading, the sections that follow go into a little more detail about what you’ll find on the site. But of course you’re wholly invited to just go there yourself and start exploring!

 

The Home, Community, and Support Pages

Upon visiting the site, you’ll see that the home page is designed to help you find your place in the overall data technology stack. Instead of a flat list of technologies, which assumes you already know what they’re used for, we’ve grouped them into .NET technologies, “native” (e.g. Win32) technologies, and the ever-available “future stuff” bucket, with direct, one-sentence descriptions. I also wanted to illustrate—literally, with diagrams—how the technologies within these groups relate to one another, a real act of self-discipline for one who loves to wordsmith. Thus was born the short Data Development Technologies At-a-Glance article (as well as individuals At-a-Glance topics for Entity Framework and Data Services). As an expanded version, I also wanted to understand and illustrate how all these technologies developed over time, which you’ll find in Data Development Technologies: Past, Present, and Future. (My associates have described this as a real “archeological job,” for which I’m grateful to whoever ditched an old 1999 copy of Inside SQL Server 7.0 in one of the Microsoft mailrooms!)

We’re also happy to offer the much more detailed piece by Bob Beauchmin, Guide to the Data Development Platform for .NET Developers, as well as our Top Ten Questions & Answers on Data.

Farther down the home page you’ll also find aggregations of our top team and community blogs—those we’ve hand-picked to feature—while on the main Community page you’ll find aggregations of all the blogs we monitor. The main Community page is also home to training partners, an index of user groups, and the best data development books and community sites.

And we should mention too that the main Support page is also an all-up gateway to all the different data development MSDN forums and the data development Connect sites.

 

The Learn Page

The main Learn page now is the one that we consider of top importance, second only to the home page. It’s really here that we hope newcomers will land when they really want to know what they should be investigating more deeply.

What we’ve done on this page then, after providing links again to the At-a-Glance, Past/Present/Future, and Guide for .NET Developer articles, is offer the Selection Guide section. This contains a decision tree based on four initial choices: Application Type, Release Timeframe, Storage Technology, and Learning Type. Each of these leads you into a second level of choices that finally present a list of those specific technologies that are really applicable to the choices you’ve made. Because we’ve invested quite a bit of thought into this guide, we’d really love to hear what you think!

Below the selection guide we continue to present the list of technologies we support on the Data DevCenter, organized into Current and Future columns. And rounding out the Learn page is a group of Learning Type links that will take you off to index pages for documentation, videos (shipping and pre-release), articles, samples, books, and more!

 

Individual Technology Pages (Mini-DevCenters)

Now when you’re on either the home page or the Learn page and click on the name of a technology, you’ll go to another page that helps you dive more deeply into that technology. In some cases, especially with the most mature technologies, those secondary pages are static. In others, especially the most recent and future technologies for which there is significant community buzz, we’ve creating something of the look-and-feel of a separate DevCenter.

For shipping technologies, specifically Data Services and ADO.NET Entity Framework, these technology pages give you quick links to the necessary downloads, a sequenced Beginner’s Guide, a detailed Resources & Community page, and a futures page. Here you’ll also see technology-specific highlight along with team and community blog aggregations.

Those blog aggregations are repeated on the Resources & Community pages for the individual teachnologies, where you’ll also find feeds for the latest videos, articles, forum posts, and Connect feedback, along with links to samples, MSDN library content, product documentation, related technologies, and available hands-on-labs. In short, we designed these each of these Resources & Community pages to be the place where you’ll be spending most of your time once you are actively working with any given technology.

We’re doing a similar thing with pre-release technologies, such as those in the SQL Server Modeling CTP: the “M” language, “Quadrant”, and SQL Server Modeling Services. In these cases we don’t have a separate Beginner’s Guide or—obviously—a “futures” page, because all of that is really folded into the individual Resources & Community pages.

 

What’s to Come

Well, the first thing I can think of, after writing everything to this point, is that I should sit down and do a video tour of the DevCenter! But as you might expect, many of us are going to be taking some well-deserved vacation after PDC…I, for one, am planning to hit the already-open ski slopes of Mount Hood outside Portland, Oregon, where I live. So I can’t promise a video right away.

What we’ll be doing in the months ahead is really working to deliver new content for the various sections of the Data DevCenter as appropriate for the lifecycle stage of the individual technologies. For example, the Data Services and Entity Framework teams are ramping up their content plans in preparation for the imminent release of Visual Studio 2010 and .NET Framework 4. With a new SQL Server Modeling CTP just out the door, there are many good content opportunities to pursue there as well.

So watch all those feeds we’ve dropped around the DevCenter, and more than that, do take the time to tell us what you think of this redesign, the Selection Guide on the Learn page, blogs you’d like to see included in our aggregations, and really anything else you can think of (including any glitches you see). “It’s All Data,” sure, but it’s really all about serving you, to help you have the greatest successes you can—and enjoyment!—with Microsoft’s data development technologies. To this goal I and the rest of our whole Community team are completely committed.

You can reach us through dpfback (at) microsoft.com.

 

Kraig Brockschmidt
Community Program Manager for the Data Developer Center