MSDE: SQL Data for the Desktop

DALLAS -- Technology reuse is becoming a theme at Microsoft. At its annual user conference held here this week, group vice president of developer operations Paul Maritz announced the availability of a derivative of the SQL Server 7.0 database engine for use as a lightweight desktop database engine.

The new product, called Microsoft Data Engine (MSDE) replicates the core SQL Server database engine functions. MSDE is expected to see deployment in a variety of situations, including lightweight desktop, laptop and off-line applications, and for demonstration or trial versions of application software that normally run against SQL Server.

"It is a data engine that is completely compatible at the API level with SQL server," explained Maritz. MSDE can be redistributed free of charge, for users that already hold licenses to Visual Studio 6.0 or Office 2000 Developer.

MSDE appears to threaten the venerable Jet Access database engine that has long been used to read and write Access data on client systems. Microsoft officials, however, see a place for both technologies. Scott Regan, product manager for Visual Studio, points out that footprint alone will help define where each product fits best. Jet has a 4 MB footprint, while MSDE is a comparatively large 33 MB, although it still will works in both Windows 9x and NT environments. "They’re different classes of data engines," notes Regan.

Regan says that MSDE also carries a database size limit of 2 GB, although a single user could use MSDE to access multiple sub-2 GB databases. It will support multiple user environments, but performance limitations will cap its deployment to small workgroups. Regan says the actual number of concurrent users will be highly dependent upon architectural designs and query types. Developers can use MSDE to synchronize a desktop database with a master SQL Server database, although the client machine is required to have a SQL Server Client Access License, and the server must be licensed in a per-seat mode. While the MSDE product carries identical functionality to the SQL Server, extended capabilities of SQL Server such as full text searches and OLAP services -- and a user interface -- are not included in MSDE.

MSDE is available through a variety of channels, and is included with Office 2000 Professional, Premium and Developer editions, and will begin shipping as a part of Visual Studio. Users that already have Visual Studio 6.0 can download the MSDE component from the developer Web site.

David Lazare, development tools lead for Microsoft, points out that MSDE enables capabilities that normally are associated with databases now can show up in non-typical environments. These elements include stored procedures and triggers. "You may have not had stored procedures in your desktop before," he notes. "This is great for developers, but it's also portable and redistributable."

O'Reilly & Associates Inc. (, a Sebastopol, Calif. 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 has another potential benefit for Microsoft, one that database competitors like Oracle Corp. and IBM Corp. won't especially like. Once applications are written to MSDE, migration to SQL Server 7 is said to be a simple upgrade, one that Microsoft is anxious to encourage by positioning MSDE as a future-proof engine that insulates users from recoding if they find they need to move to SQL Server. MSDE is not the only recycled technology that made its debut 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 second private beta form in mid May, with an open beta release expected for late this year. -- Al Gillen

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.


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