MSDE: SQL Data for the Desktop

DALLAS -- The promise of technology reuse is having an impact at Microsoft Corp. At its annual user conference held last month in Dallas, Paul Maritz, group vice president of developer operations, announced the reuse of the SQL Server 7.0 database engine technology as a replacement for the venerable Jet database engine that has long been used to read and write Access data on client systems.

Microsoft Data Engine (MSDE) will be available through a variety of channels, including as part of Office 2000 Professional, Premium and Developer editions, and will begin shipping as a part of Visual Studio. Users that already have Visual Studio can download the MSDE component from http://msdn.microsoft.com/vstudio/msde/.

MSDE replicates the SQL Server database engine functions and is expected to be used in a variety of situations, including lightweight desktop, laptop and off-line applications and for demonstration or trial versions of application software that run against SQL Server. "It is a data engine that is completely compatible at the API level with SQL server," Maritz explained. MSDE also can be redistributed free of charge.

David Lazare, head of development tools at Microsoft, points out that MSDE enables capabilities that had been closely aligned with databases to be used in non-typical environments. One example is stored procedures. "You may have not had stored procedures in your desktop before," Lazare notes. "This is great for developers, but it's also portable and redistributable."

O'Reilly & Associates Inc. (www.oreilly.com), a publisher of books and software, is among the first companies to announce use of MSDE. The company integrated MSDE into its WebBoard 4.0 product.

MSDE holds another potential benefit for Microsoft, one that database competitors such as Oracle Corp. and IBM Corp. won't especially like. Once applications are written to MSDE, migration to SQL Server 7.0 is said to be a simple upgrade, one that Microsoft is anxious to encourage.

MSDE is not the only recycled technology that was announced at TechEd. Microsoft's next-generation version of Exchange Server, code-named Platinum, will leverage the Site Server indexing engine to allow searching and sorting of messages contained within the Exchange message store. Platinum was released in a second private beta form in mid-May, with an open beta release expected later this year.

Some industry observers speculate that the introduction of MSDE may be a step toward driving desktop database use off Access and onto SQL Server. Not so, contends Neil Charney, group product manager for developer tools at Microsoft. "Access continues to be one of the most popular development tools out there. MSDE is just going to extend that," Charney explains. "Access, now in [Office] 2000, is a nice front end to SQL Server. Access is very much alive and well, and extended in Office 2000."