I love free stuff! I recently stumbled across two free Microsoft e-books that I think many SQL Server professionals will find valuable. Both books cover information that can help you use Microsoft technologies to deliver more effective business intelligence (BI) and data-warehousing solutions. And each e-book Web site provides helpful, downloadable code samples. If you're interested in exploring how to use BI and advanced data-analysis techniques in your business but don't know where to start, these e-books provide a great introduction as well as tips for more advanced users.

The first book, "Using Microsoft Office XP as a BI Client," is packed with practical information, including setup details, how to use PivotTable and PivotChart Reports and Data Analyzer to perform analysis, and how to use Office Web components to create Web applications. The book also shows you how to use MapPoint for geospatial analysis and how to use Smart Tag Solutions to integrate applications.

I'm particularly intrigued by this book because it focuses on using Office XP as the OLAP client. Of course, Microsoft has a vested interest in having you adopt Office, but I've always believed that OLAP will never become ubiquitous in corporate America until business analysts can access OLAP data through the spreadsheet and word-processing technologies they're familiar with. You can find powerful third-party front-end BI tools, but they're not cheap. Although Office isn't technically free, if your company has already paid for it, it's as good as free. Books such as this can help you put together a compelling proof of concept around BI that can ignite a fire under the powers that be and encourage further investment in more sophisticated BI and OLAP tools and projects. You can download this e-book.

I also recommend "Preparing and Mining Data with Microsoft SQL Server 2000 and Analysis Services," which takes you into the complex world of data mining using SQL Server 2000 Analysis Services and Microsoft Visual Basic 6.0. This e-book has information about everything from setup and fundamentals to transforming and splitting data.

Today, businesses use data mining even less frequently than traditional OLAP technologies. However, data mining will eventually become an integrated part of almost all decision-making processes. Why? OLAP helps you look through data to find interesting facts and answers. Data mining tells you what those interesting facts and trends are without you having to ask the question in the first place. Although Microsoft's data-mining tools aren't quite mature yet, the Yukon release of SQL Server promises to enhance the product's data-mining functionality. You can start preparing yourself today for tomorrow's hot technology by downloading the data-mining e-book.