In my last two commentaries, The Future of Books Online, Part 1, and Part 2,  I focused on information I’ve learned from David Shank, Microsoft Group Documentation Manager for SQL Server User Education, about the direction of SQL Server Books Online (BOL). This week, I share my thoughts about how I think BOL's focus on education rather than simple documentation will affect the database-training world.

First, let me recap several key goals that Microsoft has laid out for BOL:

  • Microsoft is moving BOL toward a model of "continuous publishing," which means BOL will be updated frequently.
  • Microsoft is focusing BOL on the needs of its customers. For example, new BOL editions will emphasize best practices, how-to information, and tutorials.
  • Microsoft sees BOL as a portal to other areas of SQL Server information. For example, BOL lets you search select community sites.
  • Microsoft is considering integrating Virtual PC (VPC) images into BOL. These embedded images will create opportunities for providing more complete tutorials and offering a richer educational experiences directly within BOL.

What do all these goals mean to database professionals? I believe one of the effects of BOL's evolution will be to encourage Microsoft Certified Partners for Learning Solutions (CPLS) training centers that offer SQL Server content to dramatically change their offerings--or go out of business. Don’t panic! Let me explain a bit more. As BOL focuses on education and providing more hands-on content in its tutorials (especially tutorials that include VPC images that you can down load free), users will begin to expect to learn about Microsoft products directly from Microsoft. How many people would need "traditional" training if they had access to a world-class textbook (i.e., BOL) that offers well-written text supplemented by sophisticated VPC-based examples?

Let’s refine this idea further. Historically, some of Microsoft’s greatest successes have been in the platform arena. Microsoft offers platform plumbing that savvy third parties embrace and extend to avoid reinventing the wheel. Sure, this means that Microsoft puts some companies out of business. This kind of organic change is healthy and necessary. If it didn’t happen, we’d all still be running third-party memory managers. Remember those days?

I’m not suggesting that publishers and training companies will cease to exist. But I do think it’s an intriguing idea for Microsoft to view BOL and related education offerings as a platform. BOL, tutorials, VPCs, and Web seminars should become educational plumbing that Microsoft can license in creative ways to savvy third-party companies to extend and embrace. Imagine the cool, innovative training that a third-party community might create. Just an idea. My idea might be a bit provocative, at least by database standards, but I think it makes sense.

NOTE: David Shank has graciously invited SQL Server Magazine UPDATE readers to email him ideas about what BOL is doing well and not so well. Do you have feedback about what BOL should be? Send it to David at davidsha@microsoft.com. Please send your feedback to me too at brian@solidqualitylearning.com and help me keep my finger on the pulse of the SQL Server community.