Around the Web
My Favorite ASP.NET Resources
By Don Kiely
As with any new, earth-shattering, rock-my-world technology, information and theoretically helpful resources for ASP.NET and the .NET Framework abound - more than any super-intelligent human can make use of. To make your life easier, here is a list of my favorite ASP.NET and .NET resources - the ones I turn to first when Microsoft and the .NET documentation fail me while solving a gnarly problem- as well as the places I rely on for reading the pulse of the .NET community.
I don't include any books here and instead focus mostly on online resources. Have a favorite online resource I didn't mention here? Let me know at mailto:[email protected].
ASPToday and C#Today
This pair of Web sites operated by Wrox Press has some of the best ASP.NET technical information available anywhere. I've been amazed at the breadth and depth of technical material, so this is usually the first place I turn for research. Both sites have a daily e-mail with the latest article added to each site that, as often as not, I print out to study carefully. The articles are not carefully edited, however, so beware of awkward language you sometimes have to muddle through. But I've never found this to be an impediment to cracking the technical material. The biggest downside is that both are paid-subscription sites, each costing about $100 a year, (you can get a discount by subscribing to both sites for $150) and Wrox has been raising prices aggressively each year.
This is one of my favorite sites, as much because of the information available as the fact that it is a labor of love by Steve Schofield. He has a day job, making what you see on the site all the more amazing. Much of the content includes links to interesting stuff on other Web sites, but there's a forum, lots of original information, summaries of useful forum posts, and more. One cool thing is it includes demos of many programming techniques with live pages where you can see what's happening without having to download and install the code on your own server. And, as the name suggests, it's all free.
ASP.NET - the Web site, not the technology - is one of a growing number of separate sites that teams within Microsoft are setting up to support their products. The nice thing here is that, unlike MSDN and http://www.microsoft.com, Microsoft's marketing people seem to be left out of the loop, or at least kept to a minimal role. The site runs a few product announcements, such as the recent release of the ASP.NET Web Matrix Project, but mostly it is a nice vehicle for interacting directly with the ASP.NET team. The group is trying to foster a community behind ASP.NET, so there are lots of links to other Web sites. And the price is right: free.
GotDotNet is the other Microsoft-related site worthy of calling out. Originally created during the excessively long .NET gestation and promotional period, it is a somewhat disheveled collection of articles, sample projects, conference session PowerPoint presentations, sample Web services, and probably the best source of information about Terrarium - a game designed by Microsoft to serve as an introduction to developing software on the .NET Framework. Look out for sample code that might be from an earlier release of .NET, but this is easy to work around. Although GotDotNet isn't my first destination when I'm grappling with issues in ASP.NET, it's a great place to browse for information, knowledge, and techniques from lots of people who learned .NET the hard way.
I'm going out on a bit of a limb here, but sometimes the best way to get a solid foundation in a technology is to get formal training. There are many training companies out there, but these are the best that I know of, listed in alphabetical order. And some of their Web sites have some great, free technical information. (Disclaimer: Although I write courseware and instruct for AppDev, I still think they are all great.)
- AppDev (http://www.appdev.com): With courseware authors and instructors such as Ken Getz, Mary Chipman, Andy Baron, Alison Balter - and me!- how can you go wrong? AppDev's public and onsite courses, books, tapes, and videos are all excellent.
- Deep Training (http://www.deeptraining.com): Another all-star roster of trainers, including Paul Litwin, Yasser Shohoud, and Billy Hollis. Deep Training is one of the newer training companies, and it has some of the deepest development experience any one group has to offer.
- DevelopMentor (http://www.develop.com): Founded by Don Box and others (although Don has now gone to the dark side, taking a job with Microsoft), DevelopMentor has some of the most intense training around. It has some of the smartest instructors in the business, such as Brain Randall, Keith Brown, and Aaron Skonnard. It also runs the best .NET mailing list around.
- Wintellect (http://www.wintellect.com): Wintellect's instructors literally wrote the book in several of its specialty fields. It features gurus such as Jeffrey Richter (C# and Windows programming), Francesco Balena (VB .NET), John Robbins (debugging anything), and Jeff Prosise (deep Windows programming).
Here are a few sites that have a wealth of ASP.NET and .NET information, but haven't made it into my top tier of desperate, 2 a.m., the-whole-site-is-broken places to seek help.
- DotNetJunkies (http://www.dotnetjunkies.com): It has some nice subject areas and slight customizability with its My DotNetJunkie feature.
- MSDN (http://msdn.microsoft.com): I'd be afraid to develop in Windows and .NET without my MSDN Universal subscription. It's worth every one of the roughly 200,000 pennies it costs each year, but the Web site simply has too much marketing fluff mixed in with the meat.
- microsoft.public newsgroups: Point your favorite newsreader to msnews.microsoft.com, select the appropriate newsgroup out of the hundreds available, and soak in the knowledge. Lately the noise-to-signal ratio has been reasonably low, and some Microsoft folks are actually responding along with the outside experts. And if you have hours a day to spare and help out a lot of folks, you too could earn the coveted MVP title! There are some groups I don't read every day, but simply download the messages - this has saved my skin a few times when I found the right answer.
A Searching Tip
If you haven't figured it out already, the MSDN search engine is, um, cantankerous at best. All too often, it doesn't find things you looked at five minutes ago - including KnowledgeBase articles. Surprisingly enough, the single best search engine is Google. It even has a special link for Microsoft site searches, http://www.google.com/microsoft.html. It's far more flexible, and you have the benefit of Google's somewhat miraculous ranking intelligence. Also check out its customizable Google toolbar - I've taken the MSDN Search button off my IE toolbar forever.
Don Kiely is senior information architect for Third Sector Technologies, a business and technology consultancy in Fairbanks, Alaska. When he isn't living and breathing ASP.NET and XML, he is exploring the Alaska wilderness with his dog Mardy, hiking, whitewater kayaking, skiing, and searching for true love. Reach him at mailto:[email protected].