And you thought it would never happen: On Monday, Microsoft issued its long-awaited beta 2 release of Microsoft SQL Server 2005, the linchpin of the company's Yukon wave of products. SQL Server 2005 Beta 2 is available now to Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) Universal, Professional, and Enterprise subscribers. The big news with this release is the number of new features Microsoft has added since beta 1.

First, Microsoft has verified that SQL Server 2005 will ship in both 32-bit and 64-bit variants, as Microsoft Senior Vice President of the Windows Server Division Bob Muglia noted in a meeting earlier this year. "We'll have a native 64-bit SQL Server when the new version \[SQL Server 2005\] ships next year," Muglia said. The company will release separate 64-bit versions for AMD64 and Intel's Extended Memory 64 Technology (EM64T)-based platforms and for Intel's sagging Itanium.

The big news here is Microsoft's continued support for AMD64. With this release, Microsoft is touting SQL Server 2005's compatibility with the Direct Connect Architecture that AMD created for its AMD Opteron processor. This technology helps address some of the performance bottlenecks in modern computers by connecting memory and I/O directly to the CPU and by supporting more linear symmetrical processing on multiprocessor systems (currently, 4-way Opteron-based servers are widely available, and 8-way servers are in the works). Furthermore, in multiprocessor Opteron systems, each CPU can have its own dedicated memory. In other words, AMD, once an also-ran in the processor space, is suddenly in the pole position. It's been an amazing turn around for the company.

But back to SQL Server 2005. In beta 2, Microsoft debuts its new SQL Server Management Studio, an integrated management console that replaces the previously separate SQL Server Enterprise Manager, SQL Server Query Analyzer, and SQL Server Analysis Manager, while adding new support for SQL Server Reporting Services, SQL Server Notification Services, XML, and SQL Server 2005 Mobile Edition. According to Microsoft, this integrated console will make SQL Server easier to manage.

SQL Server 2005 Beta 2 features many Data Transformation Services (DTS) improvements as well. This functionality lets database administrators programmatically transfer data back and forth between SQL Server and other data sources. In SQL Server 2005, DTS is more scalable, manageable, and reliable thanks to new enterprise-level extraction, transformation, and loading (ETL) capabilities, and it's now compatible with data obtained via Web services and XML.

Also new in beta 2 is a set of improvements to data mining, including a new neural network algorithm, a text-mining feature, Data Mining and Exploration (DMX) query enhancements, and Reporting Services integration. According to Microsoft, the first two features let administrators tackle analytical problems containing nonlinear relationships and unstructured data. The latter two features let developers apply models against data from new types of data sources.

On the programmability side, SQL Server 2005 will, naturally, be integrated with Visual Studio (VS) 2005, another core part of the Yukon wave. In beta 2, Microsoft supports cross-language debugging--remember, T-SQL is no longer the only native language in SQL Server 2005. Microsoft is also creating a new version of SQL Server aimed at developers. Dubbed SQL Server 2005 Express Edition, this product will be free and replaces the Microsoft Data Engine (MSDE). On a related note, another new edition, SQL Server 2005 Mobile Edition, will target Tablet PCs, Pocket PC-based PDAs, and Windows powered smart phones; this version replaces SQL Server 2000 Windows CE Edition (SQL Server CE).

SQL Server 2005 also includes a slew of previously announced functionality. The product ships with a default configuration that's "secure by default," thanks to its public key infrastructure (PKI)-supported data encryption. Microsoft is also pursuing the government's Common Criteria (CC) certification for SQL Server and will ship the product with a tool that advises customers about setup and configuration best practices.

If you're not an MSDN customer and you're wondering how you can get SQL Server 2005, I've been told that a beta 3 release will be publicly available. The beta version of SQL Server Express 2005, however, is available now from the Microsoft Web site. http://lab.msdn.microsoft.com/express/sql

Microsoft Ships Office 2003 SP1
And speaking of product updates, you might want to evaluate the Service Pack 1 (SP1) release of Microsoft Office 2003 and OneNote 2003, the latter of which represents a major upgrade over the initial version. For more information about these releases, please refer to the WinInfo Daily UPDATE Web site: http://www.winnetmag.com/windowspaulthurrott/article/articleid/43359/windowspaulthurrott_43359.html