Selecting a book about technology

Recently, a question was posed on the Exchange MVP mailing list about what books people would recommend to help technologists get up to speed with Exchange 2010. Clearly this is a topic that I am both interested in and have an opinion, so I made a contribution. Thinking about the topic further, it’s probably worth airing these views to the wider population… We all have our own favourite books and our own favourite writers, but this is how I view technical books:

The question of what book is the right book for any version of software depends on your needs. Some books are focused on general management, some on new features, some on user features, and some on programming. One real issue that I think arises with Exchange is that the product is now so broad and deep that it is impossible to cover how it works in any real sense in the number of pages that a publisher will allow. Publishers become worried about page count because it affects the cost of the book. It’s not just the actual cost of printing because page count affects the production cost of copy editing, technical reviewing, indexing, and layout as well. In most cases, a publisher will be keen to keep the page count under 1,000.  I’ve commented on my own struggle in this respect at Cutting pages from a book

So if you have a limited number of pages, you can take a number of approaches. Here are a few that come to mind:

  1. Attempt to provide a broad overview of the entire product but really only cover a limited number of topics in some depth with some of the less important (or better known) topics either ignored or covered in brief.
  2. Attempt to be all things to all men and cover the whole of Exchange and have sections for everything in the book. This is the “inch deep and mile wide” approach and it serves the purpose of introducing people to Exchange without giving them a great deal of background information.
  3. A variation on 1) is to write a book that is designed to serve a particular purpose such as passing MCSE exams.

Given the amount of functionality in Exchange 2010 there is certainly a case for some very focused books that might cover specific topics in a couple of hundred pages. For example, I think Unified Messaging deserves its own book now. Given the number of mobile devices and their importance to many Exchange deployments, I think that  Mobility might also be in the same category. Paul Robichaux might be persuaded to get back into the Exchange book business to write such a title.

In all cases, you (the buyer) have to take the date when the book was written into account. None of the books available today can cover SP1 because Microsoft is still changing SP1. For example, the recent public beta introduced some new behavior in mailbox moves that came (to prospective authors) “out of the blue”. Some of the books were rushed out to meet the release date for Exchange 2010 last year and can charitably be best described as barely warmed over versions of prior Exchange 2007 books with a sprinkling of Exchange 2010 material inserted to meet the requirements of the title. The authors can’t completely be blamed for this because a lot of pressure comes from publishers to meet dates and the content of any book has to be finalized some months before it appears to allow pages to be laid out etc.

The best idea is to gather feedback from people who have read books. Ask if they found the content useful in terms of understanding the product and solving real-life problems that the readers encountered during actual deployments. Ask if the book contained more than rewritten content from TechNet. Ask if the content demonstrated insight so that you formed an opinion that the author actually spent some time getting to know the software before writing anything down. Ask if the author shows some experience so that they offer real-world advice and guidance rather than repeat marketing BS about software. And then make your own mind up and buy a book (or books as no one book is perfect) to support the work of authors who all try to explain and interpret the mysteries of Exchange, accepting that no book can cover every topic and that no book is perfect.

Does that help – or maybe does it cause more questions to come into your mind?

– Tony

The Exchange Server 2010 Inside Out book is nearly done!


About Tony Redmond ("Thoughts of an Idle Mind")

Exchange MVP, author, and rugby referee
This entry was posted in Exchange 2010, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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