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Navigating Through Microsoft’s Broken Links

15-Sep-07 08:01 pm EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

Have any of you run into this?  You’re looking for something at microsoft.com– say an archived video of something related to Windows XP – and lucky you, you found it!  Triumphant that you’ve finally dug through the labyrinth of links and buttons to reach your goal, you click the last link to take you tot he download site and you get an error page like that says:

"We’re sorry, but we were unable to service your request. You may wish to choose from the links below for information about Microsoft products and services."

Of course, this is followed by a relatively unhelpful menu of some 200 subsections off the main site at microsoft.com.  Frustrated, you give up – swearing allegiance forever after to the throngs of those who disdain microsoft for being large, for being a corporation, and for still not having the organizational skills to update the links on their website when content is reorganized (which seems too often in the first place).  Right?

Well it is to you fellow searcher that I offer this little tip I picked up – and it deals with content principally linked to download.microsoft.com.  In the sample scenario I’m about to use (which closely resembles that which I engaged in this afternoon), I discovered one could "cheat" and paste part of the old, broken link into the newer standard download URL to find what one wanted.

Prior to the re-org of Microsoft’s developer support site (MSDN) a couple years back, the download URL took the form:

http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/release.asp?ReleaseID=42535

This followed a pretty simple system (based on legacy ASP technology) that any developer could imagine the code for.  The ReleaseID matched a key to another link that displayed the download detail page for the item in question.  And this is exactly the link you’ll find for the sample content item I’m using; an MSDN video on "threading" in .NET (see the link on this page under "Offline Viewing Download", 300K).  Being a developer myself the thought occurred, well, what if the newer logic still supported the old ReleaseID values? I took a look at the new (current) URL format for downloads used by the Microsoft download site:

http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?displaylang=en&FamilyID=689AA9A5-4945-446F-BF98-08F7EB55D4D4

Here, ReleaseID has been replaced with the newer FamilyID and the old integer value with an alphanumeric sequence we nerds call a GUID.  The obvious question was what if details.aspx, like its predecessor release.asp had kept on supporting ReleaseID to maintain backward compatibility from (at least some) older pages?  So I typed the following into my browser’s URL bar:

http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?ReleaseID=42535

After a couple of automatically redirected web pages later, the updated URL suddenly appeared along with the expected title at the top of the download detail page: "The .NET Show: Code Optimization – 300K".

Now all of this begs the question, "why haven’t the links all been updated throughout Microsoft.com", to which the answer is undeniably, oversight.  Certainly, some links were updated following the re-org years ago – otherwise nobody could find anything, and I have found most of the stuff I look for at microsoft.com, notwithstanding the odd incident with older material like this.  The most likely explanation is that it takes a good deal of CPU time, parsing and research to review hundreds of millions (if not trillions) of links across webfarms stretching all over the world reliably.  And, given the complexity of such a task, a few links here and there got missed.  The best one can hope for is to tell Microsoft about it and expect that it’ll be added to the queue for a fix by webteams involved with updating site content all the time.  I’m told that Microsoft might not respond in timely fashion to every request, but that virtually every bit of feedback sent to the company is examined at some point.  (Which has been my experience.)

Hope this little tip helps others in their search through Microsoft’s broken links….

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Terry Glavin

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