Last week at the TechEd Developers in Barcelona I visited the MSDN booth and spoke with Azam Husain, a Program Manager for the MSDN Subscriptions website. He and his colleagues were conducting an informal usability test for some upcoming changes in the MSDN Subscriptions website. I was eager to participate, since I am one of the maintainers of our department’s MSDN subscription. I often have to explain colleagues how to use the current site and especially the part of getting the File Transfer Manager to work is a recurring problem.
He showed me some screenshots of the new site design and asked some questions about it. The most notable things that they showed me were:
- Improved search functionality. They’ve included a prominent search box on the start page of the MSDN Subscriptions site. It looks like they want that search box to be the main method for searching MSDN Subscriber downloads. This should avoid searching the downloads using the relatively slow navigation tree.
- The addition of category info boxes on the start page, that display the latest news for each download category.
- Cleaned up navigation tree. Currently the tree not only contains nodes for the downloads themselves, but also child nodes for all variants (i.e. Vista Home, Vista Pro, Vista Ultimate and all the different languages). In the upcoming site you’ll only find the main categories in the navigation tree. Further filtering can now be done in a separate filter box which is displayed on the right side of the page.
- Usage of (ASP.Net) AJAX throughout the site. This speeds up the process of finding downloads, because full-page reloads are no longer necessary.
- Product keys are now also conveniently listed on the product download page. The separate product keys page is also still available.
- The download content pages now list product information, product keys and other related info in collapsible panels, which clean up the interface.
- The whole site is going to be accessible WITHOUT being logged in! Ofcourse you still need to be logged in to perform the actual download of products or view your product keys. But otherwise the whole site can be browsed anonymously. Obviously Microsoft’s reason behind this is that they want show non-subscribers all the goodies they will be able to get when they subscribe. But for me this is also very handy, because now I can let colleagues browse the site and let them select the downloads they want, without passing the MSDN account details.
I was pretty impressed at what Azam showed me. I did have some comments, which Azam took note of. But in general I think the MSDN Subscriptions team is going in the right direction. They are planning on releasing the new site in the first quarter of 2008.