Introducing Lightweight

My team is currently in the process of developing a new default user experience for MSDN Library (http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/default.aspx ).  It is viewable today in Beta quality by changing the view using the "orange switcher" in the bottom right-hand corner of the page.  You can also view it by adding a token in the URL: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/default(lightweight).aspx.  When you use the switcher, it persists the view by setting a cookie.

This new view, the one that will be the default online experience at RTM, is called "Lightweight".  Its design balances world-wide response time with usability and features.

How we got here

About 18 months ago, the team upgraded their global site monitoring tools to measure page response time by running a full page, including all JavaScript and asynchronous calls.  It showed we had a problem, especially in China.  We immediately started an intensive quality of service effort to improve world-wide response time.  The team picked four regions to monitor that covered the spectrum of response times we saw.  Guangzhou, China had the worst response time and Seattle, Washington had the best.   The team made dramatic improvements fairly quickly by extensive use of client and CDN caching, reducing the number of requests and reducing size with JavaScript crunching and image spriting.  You can see from the chart below that the team was able to take Guangzhou from a 25s response time to a 4-5s response time.

However, the team felt this was not good enough.  These measurements are at the backbone.  In China the last mile (backbone to computer) can multiply this time as much as 8-10x depending on connection speed.  The team tried another approach.  They built a barebones page without any JavaScript and limited images.  Results were fantastic - response times were < 1.5s in Guangzhou and availability ran at 100%.  In April of this year, we made "ScriptFree" (aka "loband") public by putting a link on the default page that allowed users to switch. 

 

User feedback on ScriptFree was very positive.  Typical responses were "I really love it, but...", where the "but" was generally either "just show me the code language I'm interested in" or "please put a search box on the page".  

This led to Lightweight.  Today, it encompasses our quality of services learnings, users' feedback on ScriptFree and business critical features from classic.  The intent is to take an incremental approach to release that allows us to evolve the design to meet users' requirements world-wide (performance matters).

Lightweight Beta Feedback

Lightweight Beta was made public on 10/19 as part of the MSDN brand launch.  The feedback has been positive with some suggestions.  We are running about 85%+ positive, with font suggestions being some of the most common feedback, especially for code samples.  We are reworking our design of these now.

The bright orange, in-your-face, switcher has also garnered a lot of feedback.  It seems to have served its purpose, which was to make sure people were aware that alternatives views were available.  We copied it from Bing for exactly this reason.  However, it clearly is annoying and we are working on replacing it with something more permanent quickly.

The Rollout Plan

Let me start by saying it is a bit complicated.  The MSDN site is hosted by a platform called MTPS (MSDN TechNet Publishing System).  The platform is being updated to MVC on the same timeline as Lightweight is releasing.  Lightweight at http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library is NOT MVC. 

You can see a very early version on MVC at: http://beta.msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library.  Please be aware that the MVC version will not be stable.  We actually push our continuous builds to this endpoint; you are seeing code as it is checked-in. 

Since we cannot complete both TechNet and MSDN libraries on MVC for all locales by RTM, we have an incremental rollout plan that uses Advanced Request Routing to serve the Lightweight and ScriptFree experiences from the MVC version of the platform and the classic experience from the previous version of the platform.

I hope this helps everyone understand our current state, the direction we are headed and why.  I'll provide more details around dates, early comps and feedback analysis over the next several months.