Are programming reference books a thing of the past?

Something that struck me while working today was the C# reference book which currently acts as a monitor stand on my desk. Pro C# 2008 and the .NET 3.5 Platform (Windows.Net) by Troelsen is no doubt a very good book, but it has served no use other than to help my posture! In saying that, this book is at least more useful than the ones gathering dust on my bookshelves at home.

So it does beg the question - are these types of book a thing of the past? Do we really need them? My response would be no - I have not needed one in 2 years so the likelihood of needing one is very low. Whenever I need to know something it is far quicker for me to use Google which will list examples of its use which can even be copied and pasted than it is to open up a book, check its index or contents. The same can be applied to finding out information outside of programming.

What are the implications of this? Does it lead to a poorer understanding of the material, and ultimately poorer code? Probably. When using classes or controls or components it is easy to dive in and use it, rather than to look at how it should be used, what the consequences are, what the better options are. Perhaps if you had to take more time to find out the information, you would make a more informed choice.

A good example of this can actually be found in my post yesterday about the MediaElement control (WPF MediaPlayer with Last.fm interaction). When using it I did a quick Google, found some examples and was able to create something in a matter of hours. However, my final product kinda defeated my original goal which was to replace Media Player with a lightweight alternative, as it transpired that the MediaElement actually uses Media Player behind the scenes.

Does this mean I have learned my lesson? No! Personally I don't have the patience to search through books when the information is at my fingertips, and I can run through examples within a couple of seconds. For me, this type of reference book has become a thing of the past.

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