A few weeks ago, I complained about how Microsoft doesn't make content from its technical shows readily available. I still believe that Microsoft should publish—for free—all the content from its major shows. However, several readers pointed out that I didn't talk about the option that Mobiltape provides. Microsoft contracts with Mobiltape to provide show content in VHS or DVD formats, and you can purchase this resource even if you didn't attended the original show. The content is on the pricey side (e.g., the content for the 2001 Professional Developers Conference cost $999), but it's certainly less expensive than attending the event.
"For many years, I've made it a practice to purchase tapes and CD-ROMs and, now, the full-conference DVDs for the Microsoft Exchange Conference (MEC) and TechEd from Mobiltape," one reader told me. "For conferences I miss, \[these resources\] give me an opportunity to catch up at my own pace. And for conferences I attend, I feel less pressure to choose the right session when scheduling conflicts occur. I now choose my attendance at individual sessions based on whether I want to ask questions and leave my passive sessions until I get home with the DVDs."
"I buy one set and share it with my team," another reader commented. "Once a month, we select a course and watch it as a team over lunch. Even though Mobiltape needs to improve the quality of its DVDs, they're still worth their weight in gold."
I haven't bought any Microsoft conference packages from Mobiltape, so I can't vouch for their quality. But the resource is a better option than missing an important session or conference. Even so, I maintain that it's in Microsoft's best interest to give this information away. I'm not naive. Microsoft's primary goal is to maximize value for its shareholders, and that means the company must make money. Conference content is valuable and can easily be sold for a tidy profit. However, Microsoft is a product and services company, not a conference company. For many years, Microsoft enterprise products have helped us build more powerful and robust solutions, but those new abilities come with a price. Building high-end, efficient Microsoft solutions can be difficult, and if the project fails, people tend to blame the tool rather than the craftsman.
Microsoft could make a few pennies selling conference content live and on DVD. But in the long run, the company will make more money by doing everything it can to educate the masses about the proper way to build and architect solutions using the latest Microsoft tools. Making conference content free and readily available is one way the company can help make that happen.