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Beta testers review Yukon's finer points

Yukon beta testers tell us what they love -- and lost -- in the newest version of SQL Server 2005.

Improved business intelligence tools, enhanced memory management components and the ability to easily debug scripts has Don Watters, a senior database administrator with the Walt Disney Internet Group, feeling good about the newest version of SQL Server 2005 database management system (DBMS).

Watters, who has been tinkering with the first version of Yukon for months, is one of 300,000 beta testers who received Beta 2 last week. The second beta is much more stable and runs a lot faster then its predecessor, Watters said.

"With the first release, Microsoft purposely went after a small group of people who knew what was going on," Watters said. To test the newest beta version, Watters set up a system similar to the one that Disney's Web sites -- ESPN, ABC News and Toontown -- run on.

They've done a pretty vigorous exercise of de-scoping and taking off stuff that wasn't appropriate for their timetable.
Kevin Kline,
president Professional Association of SQL Server Users

"This release is spreading to a much broader market, and I think they are really looking to make this beta the one they base the rest of the release cycle on," Watters said. "They've stepped up to the plate for the developers and DBAs by giving them some great tools."

Several changes that Microsoft made to the SQL Server architecture have made the DBMS more robust, Watters said. Data transformation services (DTS) boost extract, transform and load (ETL) capabilities in SQL Server, making ETL much easier to use.

"It's easier to put together all the pieces that make up your entire ETL infrastructure instead of having to build out and cull a package," Watters said.

Watters said he also likes the new ability to set break points in SQL Server 2005. In the past DBAs used to have to print statements and debug scripts, but by being able to set break points, Microsoft "has turned it [SQL Server 2005] into a full blown database," Watters said.

Still, several features that have disappeared in Beta 2 of Yukon were noticeably missing, beta testers said. The features missing in the latest release were among the most innovative, according to Watters.

A new built-in XQuery editor that beta testers liked in the first version has been removed from Beta 2. Users were able to design a XML query in a graphical way instead of building a query by hand.

Full IntelliSense support has also been left out of Beta 2, but Watters said it may reappear in the full DBMS version. IntelliSense provides interactive parameter prompting and smart command completion for all T-SQL commands edited within SQL Server Workbench.

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"It's something that developers have asked for -- for a long time," Watters said.

Microsoft may be holding off on some new features to make sure that it sticks to its release schedule, said Kevin Kline, president of the Professional Association of SQL Server users. Yukon betas have been delayed twice, but it's finally on target to ship sometime in the first half of 2005 after the release of a third beta.

"They've done a pretty vigorous exercise of de-scoping and taking off stuff that wasn't appropriate for their timetable," Kline said.

John Payes, vice president of marketing and corporate development at Montreal-based Dakis Decision Systems Inc., said he is working with a team of developers to tinker with the Visual Studio 2005 beta. New features in the software development tool, such as cross-language debugging, have increased the beta's business intelligence capabilities, Payes said.

Security enhancements that include a slew of new defaults and data encryption may make deployments a little tricky, Payes said.

"We've put a task force in place and a few developers are trying to get familiar with the new procedures and our configurations," Payes said. "Our take is that it's going to be worth the time and investment rather than a hassle to put it in place."

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