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Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Express Edition

written by: Brian Nelson•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 6/22/2009

You want to try the SQL Server don't you? You want to play with the awesome power of the database. But, you are too cheap or too poor to spring for it. No problem- try out Microsoft's free Express edition.

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    The Express Edition

    When Microsoft released SQL Server 2008, they did so with a free version called SQL Server 2008 Express. As a small business owner who has successfully been running the books with Microsoft Accounting Express 2008, I'm starting to take notice of the free express versions from Microsoft.

    Microsoft says that SQL Server Express is powerful and reliable with a rich set of features. It also says that it is the ideal platform for learning. That doesn't sound too good. But, they also say that it is ideal for building desktop applications and "small server" applications. Well, that sounds better. After all, if you are running a one man shop or even a 10 man shop you don't really have "big servers."

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    System Requirements

    Let's start with the basics. To run SQL Server Express 2008 you need either Windows Server 2003 SP2 or Windows Server 2008. You can also run it on Windows Vista and XP SP2.

    It requires a 1GHz processor (1.4GHz for 64-bit systems) but it says 2GHz is recommended. If you know anything about how Microsoft does its requirements, then you know that the translation is that you need 2GHz to get acceptable performance. It requires 256MB of RAM with 1GB recommended (you need 1GB -- I'll assume you can fill this part in from here). You need 1GB of hard disk space.

    You also need admin rights to the computer, .Net 3.5 SP1, and Windows Installer 4.5.

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    Features

    So, what does it do?

    The easiest way to look at it, is that SQL Server Express, like SQL Server Express 2005, is the new MSDE (Microsoft Database Engine). If you fully understand what that means, you can stop reading.

    The good news is that this isn't some chopped up limited version. No, you can't run the next Amazon.com on SQL Server Express, but it will work fine for most non-large company needs. Look at it this way. If you are seriously considering using a free product instead of the full scale full support product for your needs, then this is fine for you. If you are reading this out of curiosity, because there is no way you would ever consider using anything other than the highest version, because your enormous databases are your company's life blood, then this is obviously not your product.

    Express only supports one processor. It allows up to a 4GB database size. It comes with most of the standard enterprise features including the updated XML support. The clincher may be that it has a management express product for it as well. SQL Server Management Studio Express can be downloaded separately or it comes with the "Express with Advanced Services" edition.

    Applications built with SQL Server Express can be shipped and sold via free redistribution rights from Microsoft.

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    Is It Right For You?

    So, if what the folks in Redmond want you to do with the Express edition is to develop those "little" applications that just run on a desktop computer or a "small" server, how do you know if your project is small enough. With computer power and storage what it is these days, a small server could easily support several hundred users. A couple of small servers could scale well into the thousands. So, the question becomes, when do you need to get a paid version?

    The best way to answer that question is to look at what you don't get with Express. Once you see a deal breaker, it is time to move up to the Standard or Enterprise editions.

    Express only supports database mirroring as Witness, and does not support failover clustering at all. It also does not support online indexing, online restore, compression, hot add RAM or CPU, database tuning, data mining, or multi-dimensional analytics (whatever that is). More importantly, the Express edition does not provide the same level of support for integration with other data, like using XML source data or Oracle Publishing. Express also does not support Transact-SQL or MDX, so if that is how you are used to doing your thing, you'll need a different edition.

    If you haven't seen a hot button, then give it a try. After all, it's free and I've heard good things about the Express edition of SQL Server Manager Studio. (We'll look at that in an upcoming article.)

    Here is the download page for Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Express.

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    Related articles

    Other articles about Microsoft SQL Server 2008:

    >>>>Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Editions

    >>>>Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Introduction