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Review: SQL Server 2005 Express Edition Beta 2

SQL Server 2005 Express Edition Beta 2
Free
Microsoft
Redmond, Washington
lab.msdn.microsoft.com

It was an open secret that Visual Studio 2005 Beta 1 ("Whidbey") and SQL Server 2005 Beta 2 ("Yukon") were set to debut this summer. What most of us didn't know was that Microsoft would release a new line of "Express" versions for testing at the same time. In particular, the release of SQL Server 2005 Express, the successor to MSDE, came as a complete surprise to most observers. As a free database server, it's shaping up to be pretty darned impressive.

One of the nicest things about SQL Server Express is what's been left out: the query governor from MSDE, which added arbitrary slowdowns when you had more than five active connections, is gone. This makes SQL Server Express a much more useful tool. In particular, many database-backed Web sites should be able to get by with this version of SQL Server and not pay a dime in licensing fees. The maximum size of databases is also doubled from MSDE, to 4GB. Maximum memory, however, is halved to 1 GB. Still, the majority of small and medium sites won't have a problem with this.

You also get very nearly all of the features of the full, paid versions of SQL Server 2005. The major missing features include Reporting Services, Notification Services, Analysis Services, Full text search, DTS, and OLAP features. If you want to use these higher-end features, you need to move up to a non-free version of the product.

What you do get is pretty impressive. In addition to the features of SQL Server 2000, the 2005 revisions add thorough XML support, support for using the .NET Common Language Runtime integrated with T-SQL, a new set of management objects, and the ability to act as a client in both replication and messaging scenarios. SQL Server Express won't have the management tools of the full version, but Microsoft is promising a new SQL Server Express Manager GUI tool to manage it. Unfortunately, that tool isn't in Beta 2, so we don't know how well it will work or what it will cover yet.

The SQL Express page at MSDN will get you to the download, and to a bunch of extra information. Make sure you follow the link to samples and documentation; otherwise you're not likely to find it easy to get started, especially with the new features. Even with these resources, you may find things a bit challenging (the books online are still pretty incomplete). Fortunately, there are also newsgroups and articles available for you to dig in further.

I didn't have any trouble getting Beta 2 up and running on a test box, and in the tests I've made so far there don't seem to be any major bugs. Of course, you need to exercise due beta caution; don't put this on a production server (or any other machine that you can't afford to reformat, for that matter). But if you'd like to look at the next generation of SQL Server, and you didn't get into the beta for the full product, this is a great place to start.

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