Update or rewrite: how do you decide?

This is a common scenario for technical writers: there is existing content, let’s say for V1 of a product, and the same content needs to be provided for V2. Do you limit your work to making changes to the existing content for technical accuracy with V2? Or do you start with a blank slate and…

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Operations Manager: what do you need to know to use it?

This is actually an open question to you all. 🙂 It’s common for us to say our audience is the IT pro. But “IT pro” is a lazy shortcut to refer to a wide variety of people and positions. Does every IT pro know how to configure and manage permissions for SQL Server databases? Not…

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Need volunteers: Operations Manager documentation survey

Do you use Operations Manager? Would you be willing to complete a short email survey about operations documentation? If so, please send email to momdocs@microsoft.com. More details: The survey will be sent out approximately 21 March. We will use your responses to help us make decisions about organization and terminology so that the Operations Guide for…

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Which user role(s) can perform this task?

The content team is busily ramping up on doc plans for the next version of Operations Manager. (And I’ll be very careful not to reveal anything about product changes, features, etc.) I’ll be owning the operations content, so I’m working on new outlines and identifying current gaps. As I was going through the current content,…

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Would you use an Operations chm for SCOM?

Currently, we post all of our Operations Manager documentation for download in doc format, and also post it on TechNet. And lately I’ve been thinking about whether we should also post .chms for download. I know .chm is a rather old-fashioned format, but personally I like it. I like the left nav for browsing, I…

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Visual Basic 2008 Express: Build a Program Now! sample files

I decided to try to learn Visual Basic, so I picked up a book that looked promising: Microsoft Visual Basic 2008 Express Edition: Build a Program Now! I’ve been working through the chapters. In chapter 6, (adding a splash screen) it instructs you to replace the default icon with one from the companion files for…

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Writing good technical documentation, part 3

(Part 2) (Part 1) Nathan Bransford, a literary agent, blogged about his difficulty in getting writers to paste their original query into their partial manuscript. Here are the instructions he sends them: “Thank you for your recent note. Would you mind sending me the first 30 pages in a Word attachment? Please paste your below…

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Submit questions for the Operator's Manual

There are two ways to approach content on using the Operations console and Web console for Operations Manager: Explain what information is available in each section of the consoles. Take examples of information that an operator would want to locate, and tell them how to find it in the consoles. I’ve decided to do it…

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Is your IE8 slow to open a new tab?

Whenever I would open a new tab in IE8, whether by control-clicking a link or simply clicking the New Tab tab, everything would go dead for a good 10-20 seconds until IE8would finally show a new tab and then begin trying to open something in it. (Yeah, it always feels like longer.) It finally began…

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FizzBin for geeks

Scott Hanselman has a suggestion for tech support — a codeword that clues in the help desk that you kinda know what you’re doing. I’m not sure fizzbin will catch on, but it’s a nice dream…

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Writing good technical documentation, part 2

(Part 1) Joel Spolsky has an excellent post on the role of the program manager. I work with program managers, so I read through it comparing his descriptions with the PMs I’ve known. Then I got to the part on functional specifications and my interest level jumped a few notches. Because the spec is –…

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Writing good technical documentation, part 1

A recent comment by “BPM software” suggested that I write about best practices for writing technical documentation. I thought about it for awhile and decided I couldn’t really do it justice in one post – hence, “part 1”. I’ll begin by plagiarizing myself. What I said about management packs is just as true in this…

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MP guides online: a question for you

This is a question about the root page for the two management pack guide libraries (operating system guides and server guides). All of the guides are listed in the left navigation pane, beneath the parent page: In addition, when you click the parent page itself, the guides are listed and linked on that page: The…

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An operating system, a horse, and transparency

Catching up on my Microsoft-related blog feeds this morning, I counted at least a dozen blogs announcing the new Windows 7 blog — some rah-rah posts, some just passing it on, some speculating as to how much information the blog will actually provide, plus some conversations on the pros and cons of transparency. Coincidentally, last…

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System Center Content Search

I’m not a gadget-y sort of person. I mean, I like gadgets, but I’ve grown wary of them (both offline and on) because so often they’re a disappointment — either they don’t deliver or I don’t really have a use for them. But recently I saw a presentation on a gadget that delivered the exact…

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How not to write a user manual

I have to disagree with Tony Soper’s admiration for the Pong user instructions: “Insert quarter Ball will automatically serve Avoid missing ball for high score” Tony and I worked together on the same team, so he’s used to my contrariness. 🙂 I don’t object to calling Pong’s instructions “succinct”, but I just don’t think they’re…

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My new Zune

It’s red. A really deep, rich red. Small and slender, but it feels nicely solid. And here was my setup experience: I had an existing instance of Zune (from the first release), not paired with a device, that I had already upgraded to the new software. I connected the red Zune. The software immediately announced…

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Web vs. print challenges

If you took a look at the DPM 2007 Operations Guide during the beta, you might have noticed that the server chapters have a similar organization: general maintenance management data recovery And within those sections are parallel topics, such as: renaming the server applying OS updates using Windows maintenance tools A few times I’ve questioned…

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A new Vista trick I learned

The Off Campus blog brought to my attention the coolest Vista trick I’ve learned yet – resizing screens on the fly. Up till now, I thought my only choices were (1) changing the screen resolution, (2) messing with IE’s View settings for web pages, (3) Windows’s Magnifier. All of those are just a bit too…

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Goodbye, hard drive

It started with a funny little error message, waiting for me when I flipped on my home monitor after work yesterday. “Could not write to F:\ms$t” Well, there is no such directory on F: (an external hard drive), nor should anything have been writing to F: — click OK and confront the frozen screen. Can’t…

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Task-based documentation

I’m packing up for the WritersUA Conference with great anticipation. It’s a bit of a busman’s holiday for me. Lately I’ve been immersed in the technical aspects of what I was writing about, so it’s a pleasure to step back from that and think about the art of user assistance in general. If you didn’t…

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How to write really bad instructions

This evening, trying to assemble a pressure-mounted baby gate for my dog, I picked up several tips and tricks for writing really bad instructions that I just have to share for everyone’s edification: Only name half of the parts in the diagram. Users enjoy the challenge of matching line drawings with three-dimensional pieces and matching…

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Why you have to call for a hotfix

Josh Ledgard’s description of getting a hotfix online is fascinating to me because I’ve frequently come across those KB articles that seem to speak directly to my problem, and then turn coy with “To resolve this problem immediately, contact Microsoft Product Support Services to obtain the hotfix.” Like Josh, I don’t want to call anybody….

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Resources for prototyping

It’s a bit frustrating to spend my days concentrating on writing for the beta of the next version of DPM, yet not being able to say anything about it here. It makes perfect sense, of course — not mentioning features or functions prematurely. After all, if I wrote that we were thinking of having V2…

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Stop avoiding PDFs

I can’t remember the last time I was this excited by a software program. I will go to all sorts of lengths to avoid opening a .pdf file — the experience is just too slow, and it basically renders my computer useless while the opening is going on. Then there’s the tortoise-pace of navigating through…

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