IT pros have been in an uproar since Microsoft announced in July that it would end TechNet subscriptions. It's no wonder, because many IT pros use that service to learn how to use and support Microsoft products. While I understand the initial shock at the announcement, perhaps it's time to step back for a moment and take a look at the situation. I view this change as good for the IT pro, not harmful.
Before you send your email scolding me, understand that I too feel the impact of losing TechNet. I am a TechNet Magazine contributor, and it appears the magazine has ended along with the subscription service. I should be one of the people leading the charge to flood Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's email box with complaints, but I'm not. Here's why:
The main complaint IT pros have is that they use TechNet to learn about Microsoft products such as Exchange and SharePoint. There's no doubt that TechNet subscriptions have been a valuable educational resource for many IT pros. However, as Microsoft is ending the paid subscription, it is increasing the use of free evaluation copies. I like free. While the evaluation software has been around a long time, many IT pros have continued to pay for TechNet subscriptions. Personally, I never use my TechNet subscription, which I get free as a Microsoft Certified Trainer. Instead, I use evaluation copies to learn about Microsoft's products. I don't need a licensed copy of the software in order to build VMs for a learning environment. It's not difficult to automate building a test environment if you really need it longer than the 180 days for the evaluation. In fact, it's often easier to use Windows Azure and spin up a fully configured environment for testing. If you do have a complicated lab environment that must be persistent and won't time-out, then you should be purchasing software licenses anyway.
If you really need the licenses and resources of TechNet, you still have another alternative: Purchase a Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) subscription. Yes, MSDN is much more expensive than TechNet, but there is additional value, even if you don't currently see or need that value. As someone who uses PowerShell to automate and manage most of my tasks, I have gradually become more of a developer. The resources included with MSDN, including Visual Studio, have become more important to me in performing my job. If you haven't looked at MSDN in a while, check it out. Yes, it's aimed at the developer, but many IT pros are finding those resources are necessary to the automation and management of their environments (think DevOps). I consider my purchase of the MSDN subscription as an investment in my career. It broadens my skill set and makes me more valuable to my company. For me, it's a small price to pay for my career advancement.
Microsoft also announced it is expanding its free training for IT pros through the Microsoft Virtual Academy (MVA). MVA may not be the perfect training solution for all IT pros, but neither was TechNet. MVA provides great information on products from experienced experts. IT pros can accelerate their learning by combining MVA with the free software evaluations. If MVA is not the complete training answer for your needs, then you can always attend full training classes from a Microsoft partner. With all of these new options, I just don't understand the outrage over the end of a paid service that really didn't provide anything more than a few free software licenses.
Is the end of TechNet subscriptions a bad move for Microsoft? Who knows, but I don't think it's going to seriously harm and create havoc for IT pros. Microsoft is providing plenty of options -- better ones, in my view -- as it spins down the subscription service.
Many of my friends and peers are fighting hard to keep TechNet, and while I respect their views and the fight they are leading, I disagree. Take a moment and examine how the end of TechNet subscriptions actually affects you, considering all the other options. Instead of inflaming the situation, I hope I have helped some IT pros find a useful way forward. While you may not agree with me, let's keep the discussion going and find solutions that will help all of us be more successful.
This was first published in August 2013