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Free version of SQL Server 2005 tops list of downloads

The five most popular picks on Microsoft's SQL Server downloads site include its free SQL Server 2005 Express, MSDE 2000 and the most recent service packs for SQL Server 2000.

The free version of Microsoft's new SQL Server data platform is already eclipsing its predecessor in copies downloaded, which may be a good sign for the new database.

The five most popular SQL Server downloads from Microsoft's SQL Server Web site include SQL Server 2005 Express and add-ons that make it more complete. (See the complete list in "SQL Server's top five downloads" sidebar) That could be a hopeful indication for the future of SQL Server 2005, since Microsoft designed the Express edition for developers, students and others who can influence the popularity of the new release. But the 2000 version will remain popular as long as there is a large installed base of the earlier database product.

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The remaining downloads on Microsoft's top five list are the two most recent service packs for SQL Server 2000 and the earlier free database, Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Desktop Engine (MSDE 2000).

Although versions of the free Express edition of SQL Server 2005 have been available since late 2004, it was after its formal debut on Nov. 7 of this year that it became the most popular download on Microsoft's SQL Server site.

The reason? It's free and it's easy, according to Greg Robidoux, president of Edgewood Solutions LLC, a SQL Server consultancy based in Wilton, N.H. "This version of SQL Server is free and generally runs on a desktop. Because of the cost and ease of installing it, this is by far the most popular version installed to date."

Competition from open source may be driving the proliferation of high-quality free database products. Oracle jumped on the free bandwagon in October with its own 10 G Express version, and there is ongoing speculation that IBM will follow suit with a free version of DB2. "I think a lot of people will be looking at this version of SQL Server versus using mySQL," Robidoux said.

SQL Server's top five downloads:

Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Express Edition

Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Service Pack 4


Microsoft SQL Server Management Studio Express


Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Desktop Engine (MSDE 2000) Release A


Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Service Pack 3a


SQL Server Management Studio Express, the add-on that currently occupies the number three spot on the list, also contributes to Express' popularity. "Having a GUI for this tool, which did not exist for MSDE [Microsoft Desktop Engine], is a huge benefit," Robidoux said. "If you had a version of Enterprise Manager, you could manage the database, but not everyone using MSDE had that available to them."

Microsoft's list is dynamic, so the order may be different if you visit its site at any given time. But SQL Server 2005 Express Edition climbed into the top spot sometime in November and will likely stay there until there's a new update for either of the most recent SQL Server versions.

"SQL Server 2005 Express is a very rich offering," said Carol Dullmeyer, senior product manager for SQL Server at Microsoft. "The number of downloads is skyrocketing."

Express' predecessor, SQL Server 2000 Desktop Engine (MSDE 2000) Release A, still occupies the number four spot, though it is moving downward as Express ascends. Like Express, it's free, but it lacks a lot of the features Express possesses.

According to Dullmeyer, approximately 60,000 copies of MSDE were downloaded in August, but by October, the monthly number was around 25,000. Meanwhile, Express, which was only at about 1,400 downloads in August, reached 92,000 in October.

SQL Server 2000's large installed base explains the second- and fifth-place entries: service packs 4 and 3a. Service pack 4, released last May, occupied the top spot now held by Express until mid-November. SQL Server 2000 service pack 3a, released in August 2003, is now number five on the list.

And although SQL Server 2005-related products will probably increasingly dominate the top five, that large SQL Server 2000 base means updates for the older version will remain popular. "SQL Server 2000 will be around for quite some time," Robidoux said.

Dig Deeper on Microsoft SQL Server 2005