A recent blog post over at pcjs.org explores some of the mysteries surrounding information that at one point or another was published as a Microsoft KnowledgeBase article (or a KB article for short).
It’s not entirely clear where the KB articles originally came from or when, or what happened to them. The current best guess is that the KB articles started being written around 1987 and were likely accessible through some online service (dial-up, that is). They were never particularly well organized and relied on using keywords, which were themselves not clearly defined. The KB articles were written by Microsoft support personnel with input from product development, and often corresponded directly to bugs reported by customers. Finding something was a little difficult, and it appears that the main purpose was to publish something that customers could be pointed to.
KB articles were also updated, so the a KB article with a given number in 1989 was not necessarily identical to the same KB article in 1992. The information content was largely the same but the exact text was not. Some KB articles were also removed entirely, not always for obvious reasons.
Many KB articles contain useful information not found anywhere else, but finding them can be tricky. Sometime in the mid to late 1990s, Microsoft started publishing KB articles on the web and that became the official KB repository. But many KB articles never made it there in the first place (such as KB articles related to OS/2, which Microsoft had thoroughly disowned by then). Does that mean the old KB articles are gone? Well, not exactly…
There was a large archive of KB articles on Microsoft’s FTP. This was updated until about 1999 but after that, only the web versions were kept up-to-date. Again, the FTP KB archive is incomplete and doesn’t contain certain old articles.
Before the Internet was widely available, Microsoft published KB articles as part of the MSDN Library, which started out around 1992. The caveat is that over time, Microsoft added not just new articles but entire categories of articles to MSDN Library, and some of those categories were themselves quite old. The upshot is that a MSDN Library from 1998 might contain KB articles from 1990 that were not part of MSDN Library from 1994. It is unclear if the newer KB article archives on newer MSDN Library releases are proper supersets of older MSDN Libraries.
Before the MSDN Library showed up, there was Microsoft Programmer’s Library or MSPL (1988 to 1991), and that also contained select KB article archives. The MSPL notably includes KB articles related to the original OS/2 SDK which probably didn’t survive anywhere else. As is the norm with KB articles, it’s a bit of a mess—for example the mouse-related KB articles mentioned on pcjs.org are present in MSPL 1.3 but not MSPL 1.4, probably because they were misfiled and perhaps not intended to be published on MSPL in the first place.
A set of KB articles has been posted on pcjs.org for everyone’s reading pleasure. I believe it is just the “Microsoft C” category from MSPL 1.3, but it’s obvious that the categorization by topic was fairly random and there are many articles that have very little to do with C. For anyone trying to use Microsoft C 5.1/6.0, it would have been a very useful resource.
There is clearly more work to be done in recovering old KB articles and making them available where Microsoft does not.