SQL Server Magazine has gone digital. Have you checked it out yet? Digital format is a new subscription option from SQL Server Magazine that lets you receive and read a copy of the magazine in a full-color format that looks identical to the printed version. You can explore a free trial digital issue by going to the SQL Server Magazine Web site at http://www.sqlmag.com and clicking Digital Format under Subscribe/Renew. The link takes you to the Web site for Zinio, the company that produces the digital magazine. Here's what I found after reading my first digital issue.

When you sign up for digital delivery of the magazine, you're prompted to install the Zinio Reader. Unfortunately, the Zinio Web installer didn't work properly when I tried to deploy it on two different PCs, so I had to manually install the reader. After the initial download, Zinio delivers the monthly magazine by downloading it automatically or notifying you by email that the magazine is ready for you to download at your convenience. A nice two-for-one feature: You can email one copy of the digital magazine to a friend each month (but the friend can't email the issue to anyone else).

Browsing through the magazine is easy and intuitive. You can view the table of contents, quickly navigate to a particular article, then flip through the pages. Hmmm, you can do all that in an old-fashioned print magazine, too. So what else does the digital version of the magazine bring to the table? The zoom feature lets you enlarge text and graphics, and you can conduct keyword searches by topic or name. The most helpful interactive features for me are highlighting and notewriting. I can easily highlight a part of the magazine in yellow and place personal notes anywhere I want on a particular page. I suspect I'll make heavy use of these features to mark up the magazine. I like to keep all my copies of SQL Server Magazine, and these features will let me quickly find the content I find most interesting.

Overall, my experience with the digital magazine has been positive. However, I found the search facility disappointing; it didn't accommodate rich Boolean or proximity searches, and it failed to find a few words that I know exist in the magazine. I'm researching this problem and will let you know if I find more effective ways to search the magazine. You also can't search through multiple issues of SQL Server Magazine at the same time. Digital versions of the magazine would be more valuable if I could store the complete magazine catalog on my laptop and look for related topics across several issues. Although I can search across issues by topic, author, or department at http://www.sqlmag.com , I'm not always online, and it would be wonderful to have access to the notes and highlights that I made earlier.

I might be old-fashioned, but I suspect that print will be my preferred method for reading SQL Server Magazine the first time through. I like the tactile experience. Also, I look at monitors all day long, and I prefer hard copy when I need to read large chunks of text. (Note that if you want a hard copy of any part of the digital magazine, you can print two pages at a time.) However, the digital magazine likely will become my primary source for archiving SQL Server Magazine content. Instant access to the content whenever and wherever I want it will significantly boost the magazine's usefulness. I'm looking forward to the day when all magazines and books are available in digital format. I'll be able to bring my personal reference library with me anywhere I go, and I'll be able to toss the stacks and stacks of old computer magazines in my basement that I'm saving "just in case I ever need that article."