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SQL Server Express

By Steve Jones,

SQL Server 2005

As most people know, Microsoft is moving forward with the next evolution of SQL Server, AKA Yukon, AKA SQL Server 2005. The product is being developed and coincides with the Visual Studio 2005. However the next Beta, Beta 2, which TechEd 2004 attendees were allowed to sign up for, will not be a large public release (according to ENT News. Instead it should be here any day for a larger audience than Beta 1, but still a limited group, only about 100,000 users. Beta 3 is expected to be available for the general public.

So what does that mean? To me it means that the product (either SQL and/or Visual Studio) is not quite ready for prime time. I'd look for the dates to slip for the general release. It was expected for Q1 2005, now I'm thinking TechEd 2005, the June timeframe. That's my opinion, but based on what's happened in the past with Beta products and the release schedule, not to mention the push to get things right the first time, I'd expect the product to slip to Q2. That makes TechEd a perfect place to announce it's release.

It's Not All Bad

So if you're the little guy out there, can't afford MSDN Universal, don't want to subscribe to Beta programs, what can you do?

If you've got Virtual PC/VMware, or a spare computer, you are in luck. Microsoft has recently released "Express" versions of the following products:

  • SQL Server 2005 Express
  • Visual Basic 2005 Express
  • Visual Web Dev 2005 Express
  • Visual C# 2005 Express
  • Visual J# 2005 Express
  • Visual C++ 2005 Express

In case you haven't guessed it, these are the pre-release versions of the products in a "lightweight" form. They don't have all the features of the full editions and are intended to students and people learning, not professional developers.

NOTE: These are still Beta products. They are listed a "Beta" and require the .Net Framework v2, itself in Beta. I wouldn't install these on a machine that you are afraid to reformat.

All of us that plan on sticking with SQL Server as one of our primary skills, be it DBA, developer, whatever, if you use SQL Server technically, you will want to learn something about .NET and the CLR. I'm not saying you should become an expert in all programming languages, but once you understand one of them, the similarities will enable you to read code from the rest, or better yet, port what someone else has written in another language to yours!

To me that's the huge advantage of the .NET concept, that you can easily work with disparate languages. I've written C++ that works with VB and it wasn't fun. I integrated C with Clipper way back when and that was a challenge. The integration sometimes taking more time than the rest of the programming to solve the problem! Using .NET easily enables me to link a VB.NET function to a C#.Net library and data types, etc. match up and work seamlessly. Don't think that the developers you work with won't want to give this a try, especially if they each like different languages to code in.

MSDE Evolution

SQL Server 2005 Express is the product taking the place of MSDE. It is installed with Visual Studio and also available as a separate download. It appears from the description that many of the complaints and issues with MSDE have been considered with this product. For example, this product supports:

  • Single CPU systems, but can be installed on multi-cpu systems.
  • 1GB RAM
  • 4GB databases
  • Stored procedures, views, triggers, cursors, the same core SQL Server engine
  • many of the new database features like snapshot isolation, extended indexes, distributed transactions
  • Can act as subscription client for replication.
  • Full .NET and CLR integration
  • Native XML data type and XQuery support
  • Can easily migrate databases to the full edition once it is available

A few things are not included, DTS, Notification Services, Analysis Services. This is a learning system, not a development or production product. The workload governer has also been removed, but with the limit of a single CPU (no parallel queries) and 1GB of RAM for the product, there is a limit to how well it will perform. Another omission is SQLAgent, so any scheduling you need to do will require the Windows scheduler as well as the new SQLCMD command line utility.

This replaces MSDE, or will eventually, so it has the same multi-instance capabilities. At this time, Microsoft has said the instance limit is 50, so far above the 16 in MSDE. The loss of the DTS runtime is a little bit of an annoyance to make up for this.

The management tool apparently will be SQL Server Express Manager, available as a separate download, which is also a step up from MSDE.

The requirements for SQL Server 2005 Express are a little higher than previous versions, as expected, and in line with hardware advances. The minimum requirements are a 600MHz CPU, 256MB RAM, and 170MB HDD space. You can install this product on any of the Windows 2000 (except small business) versions, XP Professional, 2003 Server (all editions, including small business edition). It can be installed on a 64-bit machine with Windows on Windows (future product) support.

Anyone wanting to work with SQL Server in the future needs to start getting his or her feet wet with .NET programming. Whether you want to use Visual Studio, one of these Express products, or even the free ASP.NET Matrix development tool, pick one and write a little code.

Steve Jones
©dkRanch.net June 2004


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