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Buck Woody

Carpe Datum!

Computer books are dead. Well, some of them, anyway.

I read a lot. I mean a LOT. It seems that computer professionals have much in common with medical professionals – we have to read in order to stay on top of our game. For me, this used to mean web sites, magazines, and other print medium, and of course lots of books. I’ve even written several computer books myself and had them published.

Whenever I teach a class, do a presentation, or hold an architectural design session on a new (or new to that person) technology, they usually follow up with “what’s a good book for learning X technology?” This happens so often that I have a list I keep of the titles I like for a particular subject – you probably have similar book lists.

Windows, SQL Server, and other Microsoft products change on an average of around three or four year cycles. That’s enough time to play with a beta product, wait until it releases, and write a solid book about it, and have that in a decent market for sales, and allow people to read and recommend it.

Enter “the Cloud” – Distributed Computing.

Windows Azure and SQL Azure don’t release every three years. Changes – some of them dramatic – release every three or four months. You can’t even write a book that fast, much less update it that quickly and re-sell it. So what is a technical professional to do?

Well, although I really like a couple of books I’ve read so far (especially this one, print and e-book version here), they are out of date almost by the time they publish. Instead, I rely on blogs, the web, documentation from the vendor and how-to articles published online. Many of these, ironically, are stored, hosted or delivered using – wait for it – Windows Azure. That’s interesting because it’s a medium that describes itself – “reflection”, anyone?

This brings up an interesting conundrum. Books have a version, are arranged, thought-out and categorized. Since I’m now getting information off of the web, it’s difficult to figure out whether that material is correct at the time, what level it’s aimed at – and forget about any coherent structure. It’s topic-by-topic.

So, like most of you, I use links and favorites to arrange things. And I found myself making “virtual books” by essentially creating my own Table-Of-Contents. I’ve shared some of those, such as my Windows and SQL Azure Learning Plan. The key is that I have to update that to ensure that the latest information is there – otherwise it becomes an organized list that is not authoritative.

Don’t get me wrong – I still have tons of  (e-book format) books, especially on “conceptual” topics like development paradigms and so on. But when it comes to specifics and how-to’s – electronic medium is best for me. It’s more current, adaptable, searchable, interactive and immersive than books. But how long will I retain regular print-type books? We’ll see. Times, they are a changing – fast.



bart czernicki said:

I disagree (even though you touch on some if the validity of paper books), since books are far more detailed, correct, word smithed than blog articles.  Its hard to learn concepts like parallel programming just from blogs.

May 14, 2011 2:36 PM
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