The MSDN Time Machine
It's hard enough finding solutions to current technical problems on the web - even
with SearchDotNet.com to help; but how do you go about solving problems with legacy
software or legacy applications? Knowledge base entries and articles relating to
past versions of MFC, SQL server and VB6 are tough to isolate (except, of course,
when you're looking for results relating to a new technology at which point all
that older content magically jumps to the top of the search results).
Unfortunately, this is a problem with no easy solution. The major search engines
are search engines - not historical references. Google, for example, allows you to exclude older results (pages not updated within a period of 3 months, 6 months
or a year), but if you want pages from several years back, you're out of luck.
Internet Archives (archive.org) is nice, but its search capability is slow and
limited, and is really designed to search URLs - not the content of the pages (though
hopefully that will evolve at some point). Worse, sites with dynamic content (such
as MSDN) are useless as static archives - the essential functionality of the pages
Fortunately, most developers have a potential resource that can help considerably
with this issue. It all depends on how much of a packrat you are.
I Wanna Go Back
I've had an MSDN library subscription for... well, ever since they existed. And
for all those years, MSDN has been shipping me every quarter or so the MSDN library
- complete with technical specifications and knowledge base for the latest in Microsoft
And being a packrat, I didn't throw them out. No, I don't have warehouses of every
CD/DVD they ever sent - I tossed duplicates, minor releases, betas & release
candidates, and many of the non English CDs. But I do have most, if not all, of
the library CDs. I expect that many organizations have similar archives.
What makes these archives practical now is, of course, virtualization technology.
Pick a year, install an older OS on a new Virtual PC image, and install the MSDN
library. Within a relatively short time (you'll be surprised how quickly those old
OS's install on today's hardware, even in a VPC), you'll have snapshot in time.
A single 500GB drive can easily hold enough images to provide quarterly snapshots
of the library - enough to drill down to almost any language or product version
you are likely to need to support.