This week, Microsoft announced that they would (finally!) deliver some major upgrades that we have been waiting for. At the recent TechEd Conference, they said they will deliver SQL Server 2005, Visual Studio 2005 and BizTalk Server 2006 the week of November 7. So it's time to get serious about learning what the new features are. Even if you're stuck with previous versions - and most of us will be for a while - fortune smiles on those who are prepared.
One way you can start getting prepared right now is to download and try out something they're calling SQL Server 2005 Express Edition. What is it? So glad you asked!
In the ADO.NET tutorials here at About Visual Basic, we've recommended that you use MSDE, the Microsoft Data Engine, as your personal test database for ADO.NET. But to get started with the avalanche of new technology that will descend on us in November, you can try out the completely new version right now.
Be warned! SQL Server 2005 Express Edition is still in beta and the first challenge you will face is downloading and installing it. They're calling it a "Community Technology Preview," or CTP version. For example, you also have to install the 2.0 version of the .NET Framework, and you have to have the latest Windows Installer. And it won't work on anything except a completed upgraded Windows 2000 and later. So for you Win98 and ME users ... Sorry!
Other than to be the first kid on the block with one of these, why -- you might ask -- should you be interested.
First, like MSDE, it's free and Microsoft has promised that it will remain free. So if you're looking for a database to organize your barbecue sauce recipies, here it is.
But probably more significant is that it's actually pretty close to being everything SQL Server is. So if you are looking to move up to the big league from Access or Excel, here's your chance! Microsoft lists only these relatively few items that are different.
- Lack of enterprise features support
- Limited to one CPU
- One GB memory limit for the buffer pool
- Databases have a 4GB maximum size
The exact definition of "enterprise features support" is just a bit foggy. It means that features like data mirroring, clustering, and Notification and Analysis Services won't work with SQL Server 2005 Express Edition. But the other three are straightforward limitations that only stop you from using it in a business application where Microsoft has a right to sell you the full product. And that does leave a lot of stuff in the product. For example:
- You can write VB stored procedures and functions now!
Understanding stored procedures has always been one of the main things that it was hard to do on your own computer because, in general, the only people who could afford to install and use the databases that supported them were the companies you were trying to get a job with. It was a real "chicken and egg" problem. Now that problem is solved!
- You can create and use XML databases directly!
SQL Server 2000 had limited support for XML, meaning that you could query and insert. But the XML data was either treated as a blob in the database or transformed into relational structures. But SQL Server 2005 -- and SQL Server 2005 Express Edition -- supports XML as a native type.
- You can finally copy databases quickly and easily!
Microsoft is calling this "XCopy support" and it lets you treat databases like files. Databases can not only be moved and copied, they can even be e-mailed. After moving a database, you don't need to configure anything to make it work.
One more "feature" they're building into SQL Server 2005 Express Edition is registration. Microsoft is getting becoming VERY focused on making sure that EVERYBODY pays! Not for this product, of course. It's free. But they're making sure they know who is using every product, free or not. As they state very clearly:
Each installation of a Visual Studio 2005 Express Edition requires registration in order to receive a unique activation key. A different activation key will be required for each computer that you use.
But Bill Gates must have heard that old song, "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down!" because if you register within thirty days of the download, they give you access to some pretty cool full, online books! It makes it worthwhile to go for it.
And the final, clincher argument is the one that Microsoft has used sooo successfully for years now: They're gonna get you anyway.
Visual Studio 2005 Express Edition will be an automatic part of Visual Studio in the future. If you move up to the next generation of Microsoft technology, you will use Visual Studio 2005 Express Edition. This just lets you get ahead of the game for once.