I guess an author wouldn’t be human if they didn’t check out the reviews of their books that are posted on major book-buying sites like Amazon.com. I do this on an irregular basis, mostly because other tasks get in the way. Often, I learn from the reviews and appreciate the time that people take to write them and I am very thankful for the feedback.
And then a one-star review appears. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and I thought that the review posted some interesting questions that deserve debate. Here’s the review as posted for Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 Inside Out.
So, let’s look at the comments and figure out what’s valid. First, a straightforward opinion:
“I don’t really see what people think is so great about this book.”
OK. That’s fine. No problem there. Some people like my writing and some don’t. Such is life. The next point describes why the book was bought – to find out more about Exchange 2010. The writer is clearly unhappy with Microsoft’s documentation and believes that the product is complex:
“I bought this book so I wouldn’t have to do a google-search on every darn Exchange 2010 issue that pops up. And a lot do pop up. Microsoft seems to have gone out of its way to be cryptic and counter-intuitive with this product.”
I actually think that Microsoft has done a lot of work over the past decade to improve and expand the documentation for Exchange. If you compare what was available for Exchange 2003 and what’s available now for Exchange 2010 SP2, I think that any reasonable human being would say that the current body of knowledge is much better organized, complex, and extensive. However, Microsoft doesn’t provide a manual for Exchange 2010 and it’s true that many administrators have to resort to their favorite search engine to locate information about the finer points of Exchange, even after they attend training and even if they are experienced with previous versions of Exchange and indeed, previous versions of Windows Server. Blogs and articles published recently can be extraordinarily valuable in terms of uncovering the current best practice in an area and certainly add to the static (or perhaps, fixed in time) picture presented in books.
“So I bought the book, based largely on the reviews, and you know what? I still have to do a google-search on every darn Exchange 2010 issue that pops up.”
I’m not honestly surprised by this statement. The book spans some 400,000 words and 1,170 pages. Some 45,000 words were cut out of the book to make it fit the requirements of Microsoft Press (otherwise it might have been a 3 pound monster instead of the 2.2 pound svelte and slim volume that it is). Even so, I doubt that any author would attempt to cover every single technical detail of a product that’s so deep and complex as Exchange in a single book. That’s just impossible unless you want it to be done in as a simple fly-by coverage that will force even more consultation of search engines. In addition, our knowledge of technology evolves continually. What we know today is not what we knew yesterday, or in my case, what I knew in the period to September 2010 when I wrote the book. Every day I learn some other nugget that might or might not deserve inclusion in a book like Microsoft Exchange 2010 Inside Out. And then there’s the small matter of software evolution to deal with. Since the book appeared, Microsoft has shipped Exchange 2010 SP2 and Office 365, both of which introduced new features and issues to discuss and debate. Is there any wonder why you might have to look up the net to find out the latest information?
The review continues:
“90% of the material in this book is of this variety:
“To open a file, click on the FILE menu pulldown and choose OPEN” I’m not quoting from the book, here, I’m just saying that’s the level of information that the book is chock full of: Explanations of the obvious with nothing deeper sewn in.”
I take exception here. The writer is just plain wrong. You couldn’t complete a book at the required level and get past the mandatory technical edit if the material was as described. There are going to be times when you have to describe the steps that a reader should take to accomplish a task and that occurs in the book, but I don’t think my writing style fits the common model for educational/training material for technology topics.
“Example: Try setting up a DAG based on this book only, without once going to the internet. I dare you. I double-dare you.”
Obviously I did create multiple DAGs during the writing of the book – but I also went to the Internet to consult information such as the parameters for the various cmdlets that are used, such as Add-DatabaseAvailabilityGroupServer. After all, I wanted the material to be technically accurate. But seriously, I think that any administrator worth their salt will perform due diligence before they undertake fundamental tasks such as DAG planning and deployment by seeking out whatever information and advice that they can find so that they do not repeat mistakes that have already been made by others. I think that going to the Internet is a positive rather than a negative and would like my book to be used as a guide rather than a definitive tome.
“Also, one of the reasons I bought this book was somewhere I got the idea that it would provide a lot of information on the use of powershell cmdlets. It doesn’t. Oh, some are in there, yes. But not all in one place, not all in one list… not “all” at all.”
Sounds like a boring book to me. Microsoft has done the work to document every one of the 600+ PowerShell cmdlets used by Exchange 2010 (many of which are also available for Exchange Online in Office 365). Why would you waste time, money, and energy and kill more trees than are necessary to duplicate their work?
“Want to learn more about cmdlets? Once again, go to the internet. (Although even there, good luck.) There might be a book that’s got them all in one place. But this is not that book.”
Absolutely. Microsoft Exchange 2010 Inside Out is not a book crammed with PowerShell cmdlets. It incorporates many examples of PowerShell cmdlets to show how the shell can be used in an intelligent manner with Exchange 2010, but if you want a deeper discussion on PowerShell, you’d be better off buying a book such as Windows PowerShell Cookbook: The Complete Guide to Scripting Microsoft’s New Command Shell or Windows PowerShell in Action, Second Edition to learn the fundamentals of how to code with PowerShell or Mike Pfeiffer’s excellent Microsoft Exchange 2010 PowerShell Cookbook to learn how to use PowerShell very effectively with Exchange 2010. Because it is focused on building solutions for real-world problems, the latter is better (in my opinion) than Ilse Van Criekinge’s Exchange Management Shell: TFM, which is more of a listing of the available PowerShell cmdlets (for Exchange 2007).
David’s opinion is as good as anyone else’s, including mine. I just think that his opinion isd probably based on an incomplete realization of the complexity involved in the process of writing technical books and the struggle to complete with the ever-updating nature of the Internet. I do think that his review illuminates some of the problems that are faced in documenting and supporting complex software products. A natural thirst for up-to-date, technically accurate, and complete information exists that is increasingly satisfied by always-on access to the Internet. Our natural inclination is to go to the Internet for the latest and greatest news, something that cannot be delivered by books, especially when dealing with a product such as Office 365 that follows a regular update cycle to introduce new features.
Books provide a wonderful way to educate and to spread knowledge, but I wonder if we’re using the last set of software products that will spawn traditional books. The future might well be in the form of electronic publications composed of small and easily updated chapters that are bought on a subscription basis. Microsoft is now working on the next major version of Exchange in development. We shall just have to see what volumes appear to describe how that software works and whether the authors who take on the challenge of describing how to use Exchange “next” can do any better a job than today’s books.