Taking a page from the Microsoft playbook, IBM recently announced DB2 Everywhere embedded database will be available for free. Microsoft announced a Windows CE version of SQL Server several months ago, and all the major vendors have, or soon will have, products for small footprint embedded databases. The war for embedded databases is on! Why does this matter? Let me give you a few examples.

A few weeks ago, I read that Finland is one of the most aggressive nations in terms of mobile phone use. Estimates say that close to 100 percent market penetration will happen by the year 2002, and Finland is already above 60 percent market penetration compared to the United States' at 40 percent. Third-generation mobile phones with instant-on net access are right around the corner, and these critters will most likely become a more important part of our daily routine than the ATM card. Remember life before ATM cards? I’m still not sure how people ever had money in their wallets to pay for anything?

I’ve also read about a new class of products called personal shopping portals. These gizmos make the e-tail shopping experience more accessible for everyday life. Want to send your suits out to the dry cleaner? Not a problem. Place the clothes in the shopping portal gracefully landscaped onto the exterior of your house and tell the cleaners to come for the load via a quick touch of your Internet mobile phone. Want a few gallons of Ben and Jerry’s waiting when you get home from a bad day at the office? No problem. Your new shopping portal will have temperature-controlled compartments for heated or frozen goods!

Want to build your own radio station using your home set-top box connected to the Internet via a high-speed cable modem? Not a problem. But who needs cable modems? Teledesic’s high-speed wireless voice and data network based on low-earth-orbit satellites should be operational in a few years. Bill Gates is a big investor, so I’m thinking Windows NT Cluster in the sky. This scenario certainly gives blue screen of death a whole new meaning.

The point of this discussion is that we’re getting online in ways unimaginable a short time ago. And what's the one thing that ties all these technologies together? That’s right, databases. All these nifty devices need a bucket to store their information. And this bucket needs to be pretty smart with advanced replication and synchronization features so we can connect all our devices to each other. That sounds like a database to me.

How big is this market? I’m not sure, but I know that it’s huge and very different from the business database market we’re familiar with. Business databases handle dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people per box. Personal information gadgets use embedded databases and often serve one person. And each person will have multiple devices needing their own embedded databases. How many people live on our lovely planet? Conservatively, let’s assume the embedded database market supports more than 10 billion units in 5 years. We’re talking about $5 billion if gadget manufacturers pay just 50 cents per database unit. That’s a pie all the big boys will fight over. Who says the database market is boring?