A suggestion for the Microsoft Knowledge Base
March 22nd, 201113
A suggestion for the Microsoft Knowledge Base
March 22nd, 201113

When I go to the Knowledge Base, it is quite uncommon for me to using a web browser from the very machine that I am concerned about. In fact, when I am searching for hotfixes or cumulative updates, I am almost exclusively on my laptop or workstation and attempting to find a fix for a server that sits in a data center several states away. The reason is simple: we don't use our servers to browse the Knowledge Base; or, for that matter, any other part of the web. This is a pretty strict policy in a lot of environments.

Why, then, has Microsoft started detecting the browser and operating system I'm on, and conditionally hiding content from me?  This is a new process, as far as I can tell, but they're certainly not keeping it a secret:

So far today, I have seen this warning on every KB article I've visited. Yes, I am an extreme case, because I am using Firefox on a Mac. But even when I am using Windows in a virtual machine, I am typically using Windows 7 x64. Is KB article content going to be hidden from me when I am looking for updates or other materials involving a server in my data center (whether it be Windows Server 2008 R2 x64, or Windows Server 2003 x86)? In order to get the appropriate content for a specific server, do I really need to turn off IE ESC and any firewall restrictions in order to go directly to that server and browse the web from there? I don't know about you, but that sounds like a lot more hassle to me.

A while back they were doing this in the cumulative update download pages – hiding x86 and IA64 files if I was browsing from an x64 machine, for example. They stopped doing that, presumably due to too many users complaining that they couldn't find the appropriate files for their server(s). Now it seems like we are coming full circle, repeating the process – only this time with content.

If you want to be sure I don't get irrelevant information for a different platform, then highlight that information – subtly. Or provide a button that allows me to show all content and make it obvious which platform a piece of information goes with. Don't hide it from me altogether – this is just downright frustrating.

I hope someone is listening.

By: Aaron Bertrand

I am a passionate technologist with industry experience dating back to Classic ASP and SQL Server 6.5. I am a long-time Microsoft MVP, write at Simple Talk, SQLPerformance, and MSSQLTips, and have had the honor of speaking at more conferences than I can remember. In non-tech life, I am a husband, a father of two, a huge hockey and football fan, and my pronouns are he/him.

13 Responses

  1. JamesL says:

    I got so pissed off at this I went out of my way to find *other* MS support pages that showed the message (easy to find bt searching that text on Google), and posted a complaint on the feedback on each page.  Did a cut & paste of the message just so they'd get the idea.

  2. Brad says:

    I am on Chrome with my Mac.
    I just got this message and couldn't believe how ludicrous it was. I copied the message into Google hoping someone would comment on this. Great article/commentary and couldn't have said it better. When do you ever search for server information on the web from your server? Microsoft you just don't get it. You never have and never will. You just keep collecting your license fees on tired software. Pathetic.

  3. Ben Tucker says:

    Glad you're listening, Court!
    So just gray out the run now button and paste the message down there.  have it say something like
    "The Fix it package linked here applies to a different operating system than the one you are using.  The download link has been disabled.  To change this setting, click here…"
    Perhaps make us check a checkbox to acknowledge that we will totally screw our computers up if we can somehow manage to run this  .exe on our mac or android device.
    After playing with my user-agent reporting a bit, I think I see the point here is to keep (for example) Windows 7 users from using instructions and fixits for Windows ME. That's a good usability tool.
    I *never* browse the web from my servers.  Yuck!  If there is a fixit, I would like to be able to download it and copy it to the system it needs to run on.
    The way it is frankly looks like a childish way to punish me for daring show my face on the  knowledgebase with a mac.
    I guess the point is, please be specific about what was hidden and why and provide us a way to get at it anyway if we're willing to tell you that we are sure we want it.  
    I promise I am not trying to pirate your fixits for my Mac. 🙂

  4. Court Crawford says:

    We're listening.
    In this case, as Phil suggested, it's a benign message. We're not hiding or disabling anything on this article.
    This was a new feature to prevent execution of Windows binaries on non-Windows systems. We got dinged by a different blog for letting that happen. We clearly need to dial back the solution a little and we're working out the permutations.
    Here's the inputs to the algorithm we're thinking of:
    1) Does the article's "applies to" section refer to a Windows OS?
    2) Does the article link to a windows binary (usually a Fix it package)?
    3) Is the user's OS not a supported version of Windows (Win3x/Win9x/Android/Mac/Linux/Symbian/etc)?
    4) Does the user's OS match one of the OS values from the "applies to" section of the article
    The system tip you saw should really only be presented on systems where 2 and 3 are true.
    If you have any suggestions, we're still listening. In the meantime, the only "disabling" of content we'll be doing is disabling the "run now" button from articles that have links to diagnostic binaries, which currently only support running on the system which downloaded them.
    Thanks for the feedback!

  5. Shawn Melton says:

    I usually on get that message on KB articles that pertain to an OS version. Meaning in the "Applies To" section it shows Windows operating systems. On ones that applie to a Microsoft product like SQL Server, SharePoint, etc I usually do not see the message.
    But I do agree if I am looking up an issue with Window Server 2003, I am fully aware the KB articles does not pertain to the Windows 7 operating system I am looking at the article on. I can see to some extent Microsoft does it to protect them from the ID10Ts out there that don't pay attention to the OS the KB applies to, but don't hide content.

  6. Jonathan Gardner says:

    I had not seen that yet.  I use Chrome on my Mac and am seeing the same thing.

  7. AlexK says:

    While we are discussing this solution without a problem, we are not doing anything more useful.
    There is a wonderful article entitled "Fire and Motion" – it offers a great explanation of why thing like this keep happening; it is a must read.

  8. AaronBertrand says:

    Not yet, but in fairness, I've only scrutinized the one I mentioned in my comment. I think that they should only show the warning when there *are* differences, and that the differences should be highlighted, not "disabled" or hidden.

  9. BigFishSQL says:

    There's a variation of this message that's been around for a while: "This article applies to a different version of Windows than the one you are using. Content in this article may not be relevant to you" (Article is about Server 2003, I am using Windows 7) but it doesn't say anything about hiding content. Annoying, yes, but not as worrying as the one you are seeing.

  10. Phil Brammer says:

    Have you found cases where they are actually filtering content though?  That doesn't dismiss the problem, but I'm wondering if it's a benign message.

  11. AaronBertrand says:

    Robert, go here:
    Here is a screen shot of what I see:
    Now, again, I'm on a Mac, so I'm not sure if you'll see this on your current operating system. But does Microsoft really think I'm looking for SQL Server 2008 fixes for THIS MACHINE? And the message is certainly ambiguous about where it draws the lines between operating systems. It almost seems like they are just making it difficult for Mac users to use the KB. I wonder what message IE6 users get.

  12. Robert L Davis says:

    I haven't seen this specific message. Can you give a link to an example?

  13. TheSQLGuru says:

    HUGE plus 1 on this topic Aaron.  I too hope someone (who can get this fixed) is paying attention!1