Geoff N. Hiten Blog

SQL Server thoughts, observations, and comments

The first thing you will hate about SQL Denali…

OK, this is really the first thing “I” hate about SQL Denali, but I bet a fair number of you will hate this too. Once again, Microsoft has enforced the dictum that everyone must be either a Developer or an IT Pro. As Data Professionals, many of us have suffered as our employers can’t figure out where to hang us in the company Organization Chart, usually sticking us between Dev and Ops and letting the managers (and us) sort it out. This time, Microsoft has decided we are “Developers” and we shall get our help via the Web. Admittedly, Google makes a better index for Books-On-Line (BOL) than BOL index, but that is no excuse for crippling the documentation.

If you want a local copy of BOL, you will have to go through an insane number of steps to get it on your machine fully. It gets worse if this is a production machine (or operating under production protocols) where you don’t have direct Internet access. Let’s step through a BOL install to see just how bad it is.

First, you have to find BOL. It isn’t in the main download (CTP3). Tickle a search engine with the magic words “SQL Denali Feature Pack” and you will find yourself here eventually:

OK. Hit the “Download” button.

Gotcha!! You jumped to the actual feature pack page (

) while downloading a file with the following essential instructions:


Thanks Microsoft, I never would have figured that out on my own.

Scroll waaaayyy down and eventually get to here:


It is right between the Remote Blob Store download and the Upgrade Advisor Download, exactly where you would expect it to be.

Note this does not download any files (despite the essential instructions downloaded to get you here), it takes you to yet another download page:

Jackpot, not only do we get a real download, we finally get an explanation:


OK, Click the download and 200 MB later we have an install executable. Well, not exactly. We have a self-extracting ZIP file that copies its contents somewhere (Default is down in an AppData temp folder. )


Note the folder size and the file download size are identical. Yes, zero compression. A little digging tells us why:


Cab files. They are already compressed.

Meanwhile most of us are waiting for the installer phase to start. And waiting…. And waiting…..

Hmm. No installer app. Remember the web page above? No installer, we have to go to an app and yet another unique step to install local help.

For this part to work, you have to have loaded the DenaliCPT3 SQL Server Management Studio.

Bring up the Help Library Manager. You can do this from Management Studio or from the Start menu.


First, you have to tell it to use local help because that isn’t the default:


Then you have to actually LOAD the help (for those counting, we are now up to three copies; the raw download, the source folders, and the actual local copy).


Hang on, we are almost there. Browse to the files you extracted from the self-extracting archive (you do remember where you put them, right?)


One more “Simon Says” moment while you tell help manager to add the files you took four web pages to find, then had to download , then had to extract.


Simple, obvious, and easy. NOT!!!!

Given install paths like this, Oracle can win the usability wars just by standing still.

Legacy Comments

Gail Shaw
re: The first thing you will hate about SQL Denali…
If there's one impression I've been getting of Microsoft over the last couple of years it's been that their general attitude towards users who don't have top-quality internet access is along the lines of 'Ha ha ha! Sucks to be you!'

Joe Fleming @MuadDBA
With each new version of SQL and SSMS, we DBAs complain about the interface and how it doesn't suit management of servers particularly well, and each time there will be someone out there from MS apologizing and soliciting feedback...and somehow, THIS is what they come up with?

I can hardly imagine the scenario where someone said "You know, I like local help, but it just isn't hard enough to install. Maybe with the enxt version it oculd refuse to install until I poked myself in the eye with a stick?"

Thanks for the write-up, Geoff. It will certainly help.

re: The first thing you will hate about SQL Denali…
Maybe I'll be retired before I have to worry about denali. At least I hope so.

Alan Brewer
re: The first thing you will hate about SQL Denali…
Hey Goeff, sorry you had that much trouble getting the CTP3 BOL, that’s like the most convoluted way to install BOL. Maybe it was because you were one of the first to install CTP3, and there was a delay in getting the BOL local help packages published.

When you install CTP3, setup should install the help viewer and library manager, and all you should have to do is configure them to either use the online help or download the local help packages. At the end of setup you should get a dialog explaining that, and linking you to this BOL page for details: Or the first time you click on the BOL icon in the program group after running setup, you should get a dialog asking if you want to view online help. If you reply yes, the help viewer should open with the content in the MSDN or TechNet Libraries. If you say no, the help viewer should launch and open a page covering how to download the local help collections. No need to go do the separate download to install the help view and library manager.

We are working to push out some additional documentation and a video on how to efficiently enable the CTP3 BOL.

For the other things, we did not really think of developers vs IT pro’s for decisions such as not including the BOL in the box. That particular decision was driven by the confusion we see from customers who still have the original Books Online for releases like SQL 2005 and SQL 2008 sending in feedback on topics that we fixed years ago. We’ve published this page explaining many of the new changes in the CTP3 BOL and some of our reasons for making them:

re: The first thing you will hate about SQL Denali…
Thank you Alan. For the reader's benefit, Alan is part of the SQL Server Documentation team and puts a lot of work into BOL. I don't blame him, I blame SQL Management Studio being locked into the Visual Studio platform.

Alan, I could have hooked my VM into a public virtual network and downloaded BOL via the Help Library Manager. I was simulating a locked-down production machine that is intentionally isloated from downloading anything from the Internet.

Remember when you could load multiple versions of help and switch between them? I am still waiting for the "improved" version to give us back that feature. Sometimes I want "old" versions of help because that is the code I have to support.

And I believe my first download this morning was the CTP 1 docs. I did a new download mid-day and got the correct files. Seemed like a transient thing so I let it slide.

Alan Brewer [MSFT]
re: The first thing you will hate about SQL Denali…
Ah, we were wondering why you didn't just click the BOL icon in the program group.

Yes, the facilities for getting BOL behind a firewall are less polished than we would like. We keep working the issue with the help viewer team, and hope the process will be simpler in the next release of Visual Studio. Tomorrow I'll work with some of the writers to make the CTP3 instructions for that more discoverable, the ones at the bottom of