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What to make of Microsoft SQL Server Express

A first look at what Microsoft's pared-down version SQL Server can and can't do.

Microsoft is getting ready to release a limited client version of SQL Server 2005 called SQL Server Express that is meant for developers, hobbyists and ISVs who need a low end database without enterprise support. A common scenario envisaged for the use of this free product is for a Web development project with Visual Studio, or for use as a custom database that an ISV might want to distribute to clients. Since Express is based on the Yukon the database engine is the same as 2005, and contains the same programming capabilities such as T-SQL, Native Client and ADO.NET APIs. Should you develop something that you want to transform into an enterprise product, you can upsize your database into SQL Server 2005.

Express is limited in ways that make its use as a multi-user database or commercial product limited, such as limited networking support, but this is not a lightweight database. Indeed, there are features in Express like Application XCopy that are unique, and the Auto-Close feature is also on by default. If you can live with a product that has a one CPU limitation, can work with databases up to 4GB in size, uses less than 1GB of memory for its buffer, and has limited network support, then you can use Express for your work. What you won't find in Express is high availability features, SQL Agent or Management Studio, the Full Text search function, or advanced Reporting Services or BI services such as Notification and Analysis Services.

Express comes with Express Manager and Computer Manager, two GUI tools for setup and installations. Express is limited to the use of the shared memory on the local system. Connection to the database can be through TCP/IP or Named Pipes. However, Web access through HTTP or high performance access using VIA are not supported. You have to specifically turn on networking with Express, and a connected user is required to turn on the SQL Server Browser service in order to make a network connection work. Shared memory doesn't use the Browser service.

You'll need a system capable of running Windows 2000 SP4, XP Pro SP1, or Server 2003 to run Express. The recommended RAM is 512 MB, but the product will work with as little as 256 MB of RAM. The software also requires 170 MB of hard drive space, MSIE 6.0 SP1, and Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0, or later products.

Express is currently at the technical preview stage. You can download from Microsoft's Web site. You will find a detailed technical discussion of Express. Its comparison to other free Microsoft database engines (Jet and MSDE) and the integration of the product with the Visual Studio development environment are of special note.

Barrie Sosinsky is president of consulting company Sosinsky and Associates (Medfield MA). He has written extensively on a variety of computer topics. His company specializes in custom software (database and Web related), training and technical documentation.

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