It's no secret I'm a huge fan of the productivity tools CodeRush & Refactor! Pro for Visual Studio 2005 by DevExpress. While I've only played around creating custom plugins, one of the challenges I, along with so many others, have faced is a lack of documentation for plugin development... something equivalent to an SDK. The answer was always simple... head to the DevExpress newsgroups. The Plugin newsgroup contained a wealth of information. The only problem with it was that it wasn't indexed unless your reader had that capability.
Well, they listened... and acted! On Thursday an email went out to all their customers saying that the old newsgroups are no longer... they've been set to read-only mode and they have instead implemented web forums. My first reaction when I read that on my phone: complete dejection. I hate web forums compared to newsgroups. Why? It's so much easier for me to read from newsgroups and flag posts for future reference than it is on web forums. Plus, web forums take so long to wade through.
I should have given them more credit <whap>. Once I got home and checked it out, they not only were web forums, but they were also 100% accessible via NNTP! Sure, you have to login to post on the web forums, as well as login when you read/post to the same forums via the NNTP access, but big deal! You now get the best of both worlds! I can post something via the web forums and flag that post to send me email updates when there's activity. I LOVE THAT! You can post in one venue and see it show up in the other. FANTASTIC! We can also search the forums... sweet!!! Now, let's just import all those old messages into the new forums, even if we have to let the identity of the poster be anonymous.
Now a bit of a disclaimer: out of the gate they've had a few issues. First, the performance of the web forums was pathetic... to the point they weren't even useable. However today, they as fast as you'd expect and hope for. I'm still having trouble with (1) the NNTP access [they are aware of it and it's actively being addressed] and (2) none of my email subscriptions are working. However I'm not concerned... sure, it's a bit of a pain today, but given their track record, I'd expect it resolved soon. Are they hiding behind the issues? Nope... they are full frontal with them (ok, maybe not THAT open) as Julian Bucknall, the CTO, openly discusses the issues on his blog.
Now... if Microsoft would only take a clue here. The MSFT newsgroups are still the best resource for peer-to-peer help and resolving issues. But what's the best way to search them? Google Groups! This is insane... MSFT wants to win the search battle and the best way to search their own newsgroups is to use the search tools of their #1 search competitor? And it's not like this happened on Thursday... this has been the case for YEARS! Oh yeah, and when should you use MSFT's web forums vs the newsgroups? Uh... I guess you use them both?
What's been my story for utilizing the Microsoft newsgroups? Let's see... when I'm reading them, I use XanaNews as my offline reader. When I post, I use the MSDN/TechNet interface because I can get email alerts when someone replies to my post. When I need to search, I use Google Groups. Not like I need to say this, but THIS IS PATHETIC. Give me a one-stop-shop. I want to have an offline aggregator, but give me an integrated web experience as well where I can search and subscribe to threads. Don't give me two 100% different experiences (as today, where newsgroup posts are only in the newsgroups and web forums aren't at all linked to the web forums).
I hope DevExpress' implementation is a bit of a wake up call to Microsoft and some of those softies I've talked to who've said integrating forums & newsgroups isn't possible. Sure, there are challenges, but it is possible.
Hats off to DevExpress. Thank you for listening and acting... sure there are a few pain points early on, but you aren't hiding behind them and being open in addressing them. THANK YOU