Thursday, March 29, 2007

'T' Is For "Too Cool"

I've mentioned here before that I was part of the original team that wrote MSDN2. I guess that's why I get occasional questions about the website. Of course, I was involved in writing the Microsoft/TechNet Publishing System (MTPS), the system behind the web pages, and not in the actual rendering stuff, but I try to help when I can. So the other day when someone asked me a question, I shot off an email to someone on the team to see if I could get him an answer. The response I got taught me something cool I didn't know about the website, so I thought I would share (with permission).


There are three new features to the MSDN2 website - two you may have noticed and one you probably haven't. The first one that's a bit more obvious is that the nav tree recently started loading asynchronously in its own iframe. What this means is that you no longer have to wait for the tree to load before you can view the content. As "I don't want to wait for the tree" is easily the number one complaint I have personally heard about the site - woohoo! Further changes are planned to make this even better.


Another one you might have picked up on is that the "trail of bread crumbs" navigation control along the top of the content (the internal MSDN term for it is "the eyebrow") has some added functionality. It now sports an AJAXy dropdown feature that makes it easy to navigate to siblings of the current node or any of the current node's ancestors. Go try it (for example, here) - you'll see what I mean.


The final, more subtle feature is that you can hit the 't' key to toggle visibility of the nav tree. I love this feature because I often just type in a URL to jump directly to a piece of documentation, so I don't need the tree at all. But whether I do or not, toggling the tree lets me use the full width of the screen for the content…very nice.


So kudos to the rendering team for making the MSDN2 site nicer to use!


  1. Thanks for the info. The 'T' key is a nice feature. As far as I can tell, its totally non-discoverable - except from nice blog entries like this :) Is there a way to display MSDN hotkeys? Are there anymore?

  2. T is it, and there's no way to display the hotkeys (were there more than just one). I just asked.

  3. Hover your mouse over the splitter:

    "Click and drag to resize. Double click or press 't' to toggle visibility."

  4. Oh, and someone ought to teach the MSDN2 guys a little about HTTP caching (and using Fiddler). The performance from this side of the Atlantic is woeful. A single 50K page results in 20 HTTP requests/round-trips totalling 200K. If at least the WebResource.axd's were cached (which are always sending back identical content) then it could be reduced to just a couple of requests and a huge reduction in MS's bandwidth bill!

  5. They're aware of that problem as well. Thanks for the feedback, though.