Type of site
Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) is the portion of Microsoft responsible for managing the firm's relationship with developers and testers, such as hardware developers interested in the operating system (OS), and software developers developing on the various OS platforms or using the API or scripting languages of Microsoft's applications. The relationship management is situated in assorted media: web sites, newsletters, developer conferences, trade media, blogs and DVD distribution. The life cycle of the relationships ranges from legacy support through evangelizing potential offerings.
MSDN's primary web presence at msdn.microsoft.com is a collection of sites for the developer community that provide information, documentation, and discussion that is authored both by Microsoft and by the community at large. Recently, Microsoft has placed emphasis on incorporation of forums, blogs, library annotations and social bookmarking to make MSDN an open dialog with the developer community rather than a one-way service. The main website, and most of its constituent applications below are available in 56 or more languages.
MSDN Library is a library of official technical documentation content intended for developers developing for Microsoft Windows. MSDN Library documents the APIs that ship with Microsoft products and also includes sample code, technical articles, and other programming information. It is available free on the web and on CDs and DVDs for paid MSDN subscribers. Initially, the disc version was only available as part of an MSDN subscription and was released on a quarterly basis (January, April, July and October). However, in recent times (2006 and later), it can be freely downloaded from Microsoft Download Center in form of ISO images for CD/DVD releases are no longer published quarterly. Instead, its release schedule is now aligned with major software releases (major Visual Studio release, major Windows release or service packs), (up to Visual Studio 2008).
Visual Studio Express edition integrates only with MSDN Express Library, which is a subset of the full MSDN Library, although either MSDN edition can be freely downloaded and installed standalone.
In Visual Studio 2010 MSDN Library is replaced with the new Help System, which is installed as a part of Visual Studio 2010 installation. Help Library Manager is used to install Help Content books covering selected topics.
In 2016, Microsoft introduced the new technical documentation platform, Microsoft Docs, intended as a replacement of TechNet and MSDN libraries.   Over the next two years, the content of MSDN Library was gradually migrated into Microsoft Docs.  Now most of MSDN Library pages redirect to the corresponding Microsoft Docs pages.
Integration with Visual Studio
Each edition of MSDN Library can only be accessed with one help viewer (Microsoft Document Explorer or other help viewer), which is integrated with the then current single version or sometimes two versions of Visual Studio. In addition, each new version of Visual Studio does not integrate with an earlier version of MSDN. A compatible MSDN Library is released with each new version of Visual Studio and included on Visual Studio DVD. As newer versions of Visual Studio are released, newer editions of MSDN Library do not integrate with older Visual Studio versions and do not even include old/obsolete documentation for deprecated or discontinued products. MSDN Library versions can be installed side-by-side, that is, both the older as well as the newer version of MSDN Library can co-exist.
MSDN Forums are the web-based forums used by the community to discuss a wide variety of software development topics. MSDN Forums were migrated to an all-new platform during 2008 that provided new features designed to improve efficiency such as inline preview of threads, AJAX filtering, and a slide-up post editor.
MSDN blogs is a series of Microsoft blogs hosted under
blogs.msdn.com domain name. Some blogs are dedicated to a product – e.g. Visual Studio, Internet Explorer, PowerShell – or a version of a product – e.g. Windows 7, Windows 8 – while others belong to a Microsoft employee, e.g. Michael Howard or Raymond Chen.
Social bookmarking on MSDN Social was first launched in 2008, built on a new web platform that has user-tagging and feeds at its core. The goal of the social bookmarking application is to provide a method whereby members of the developer community can:
- Contribute to a database of quality links on any topic from across the web. By filtering on one or more tags, (e.g. ".net" and "database") users can discover popular or recent links and subscribe to a feed of those links.
- Find and follow experts' recommended sites. Each profile page includes a feed of the user's contributions. Users can be discovered through a drop-down menu on each bookmark.
- Demonstrate their expertise through the links displayed in their profile.
- Store their favorite links online.
The initial release of the application provides standard features for the genre, including a bookmarklet and import capabilities. The MSDN web site is also starting to incorporate feeds of social bookmarks from experts and the community, displayed alongside feeds from relevant bloggers.
Social Bookmarks was discontinued on October 1, 2009.
MSDN Gallery is a repository of community-authored code samples and projects. Launched in 2008, the purpose of the site is still evolving to complement Codeplex, the open-source project hosting site from Microsoft.
MSDN has historically offered a subscription package whereby developers have access and licenses to use nearly all Microsoft software that has ever been released to the public. Subscriptions are sold on an annual basis, and cost anywhere from US$1,000 to US$6,000 per year per subscription, as it is offered in several tiers. Holders of such subscriptions (except the lowest library-only levels) receive new Microsoft software on DVDs or via downloads every few weeks or months. The software generally comes on specially marked MSDN discs, but contains the identical retail or volume-license software as it is released to the public.
Although in most cases the software itself functions exactly like the full product, the MSDN end-user license agreement prohibits use of the software in a business production environment. This is a legal restriction, not a technical one. As an example, MSDN regularly includes the latest Windows operating systems (such as Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows 8.1), server software such as SQL Server 2008, development tools such as Visual Studio, and applications like Microsoft Office and MapPoint. For software that requires a product key, a Microsoft website generates these on demand. Such a package provides a single Microsoft enthusiast with access to nearly everything Microsoft offers. However, a business caught with an office full of PCs and servers running the software included in an MSDN subscription without the appropriate non-MSDN licenses for those machines would be treated no differently in a software licensing audit than if the software were obtained through piracy.
Microsoft's MSDN license agreement makes a specific exception for Microsoft Office, allowing the subscription holder to personally use it for business purposes without needing a separate license — but only with the "MSDN Premium Subscription" and even so only "directly related to the design, development and test and/or documentation of software projects" as stated in the MSDN licensing FAQ. As would be expected, any software created with the development tools (like Visual Studio), along with the runtime components needed to use it, isn't restricted in any way by Microsoft either — such software can and regularly is used for business production purposes. The license agreement refers to several other items in the subscription and grants additional similar exceptions as appropriate.
An MSDN subscriber is entitled to activate as many copies as needed for his/her own development purposes. Therefore, if a computer enthusiast has 20 computers (actual or virtual) for software development (and aren't acting as part of a business, for example, a server farm), one subscription allows all 20 of those computers to be running their own separate copy of Windows, Office, and any other Microsoft product. After a few installations, the activation keys will stop allowing automatic product activation over the Internet, but after a telephone call to the Product Activation hotline to confirm that the installations are indeed legitimate and consistent with the license agreement, the activations are granted over the phone.
Even though an MSDN subscription is on an annual basis (for retail subscriptions—volume licensing subscriptions can be multi-year), the license to use the software, according to the agreement, does not terminate. However, the individual will no longer be entitled to any upgrades after the subscription has expired. An MSDN subscription also allows access to legacy Microsoft products. Although they aren't included in the regular CD/DVD shipments, subscribers can download older software such as MS-DOS 5.0 and Windows 3.1 from MSDN Subscriber Downloads. Such software usually comes in the form of ISO or floppy disk image files that allow the subscriber to reproduce the original installation media after the download.
The division runs an information service provided by Microsoft for software developers. Its main focus is on Microsoft's .NET platform, however it also features articles on areas such as programming practices and design patterns. Many resources are available for free online, while others are available by mail via a subscription.
Universities and high schools can enroll in DreamSpark Premium program, which provides access to some Microsoft developer software for their computer science and engineering students (and possibly other students or faculty as well). A DreamSpark Premium account cannot be used to access the subscriber's section of the MSDN website or its downloads.
Microsoft provides the editorial content for MSDN Magazine, a monthly publication. The magazine was created as a merger between Microsoft Systems Journal (MSJ) and Microsoft Internet Developer (MIND) magazines in March 2000. MSJ back issues are available online. MSDN Magazine was available as a print magazine in the United States, and online in 11 languages. The last issue of the magazine is planned for November 2019.
MSDN was launched in September 1992 as a quarterly, CD-ROM-based compilation of technical articles, sample code, and software development kits. The first two MSDN CD releases (September 1992 and January 1993) were marked as pre-release discs (P1 and P2, respectively). Disc 3, released in April 1993, was the first full release. In addition to CDs, there was a 16-page tabloid newspaper, Microsoft Developer Network News, edited by Andrew Himes, who had previously been the founding editor of MacTech, the premiere Macintosh technology journal. A Level II subscription was added in 1993, that included the MAPI, ODBC, TAPI and VFW SDKs.
MSDN2 was opened in November 2004 as a source for Visual Studio 2005 API information, with noteworthy differences being updated web site code, conforming better to web standards and thus giving a long-awaited improved support for alternative web browsers to Internet Explorer in the API browser. In 2008, the original MSDN cluster was retired and MSDN2 became msdn.microsoft.com.
Dr GUI and the MSDN Writers Team
In 1996, Bob Gunderson began writing a column in Microsoft Developer Network News, edited by Andrew Himes, using the pseudonym "Dr.GUI". The column provided answers to questions submitted by MSDN subscribers. The caricature of Dr. GUI was based on a photo of Gunderson. When he left the MSDN team, Dennis Crain took over the Dr. GUI role and added medical humor to the column. Upon his departure, Dr. GUI became the composite identity of the original group (most notably Paul Johns) of Developer Technology Engineers that provided in-depth technical articles to the Library. The early members included: Bob Gunderson, Dale Rogerson, Rüdiger R. Asche, Ken Lassesen, Nigel Thompson (a.k.a. Herman Rodent), Nancy Cluts, Paul Johns, Dennis Crain, and Ken Bergmann. Nigel Thompson was the development manager for Windows Multimedia Extensions that originally added multimedia capabilities to Windows. Renan Jeffreis produced the original system (Panda) to publish MSDN on the Internet and in HTML instead of the earlier multimedia viewer engine. Dale Rogerson, Nigel Thompson and Nancy Cluts all published MS Press books while on the MSDN team. As of August 2010, only Dennis Crain and Dale Rogerson remain employed by Microsoft.
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