If you want to learn about SQL Server 2005 and maybe win an XBox at the same time, sign up for Microsoft's free Webcasts, which start December 6 and end December 10. Microsoft will host three new Webcasts each day of the week, presenting 15 Webcasts in all. Topics include an overview of the new developer features in SQL Server 2005, an introduction to the new SQL Server Management Studio, T-SQL enhancements, XML in SQL Server 2005, ADO.NET 2.0 for SQL Server 2005, Service Broker, Reporting Services, Integration Services (formerly called Data Transformation Services—DTS), Analysis Services, and more. You can check the full schedule at http://msdn.microsoft.com/sql/2005webcasts/ . Then, starting in early January and running through SQL Server 2005's official release, Microsoft will begin a new series of SQL Server 2005 developer Webcasts. Microsoft plans to offer one new topic each week until SQL Server 2005 launches.

Matt Nunn, a SQL Server product manager, says everyone who attends a Webcast will receive the currently available SQL Server 2005 Beta 2 Resource Kit and the Beta 3 Resource Kit when it ships. Also, the first 1500 people to participate in 5 or more Webcasts will receive a special, limited-edition SQL Server 2005 Webcast t-shirt. And all Webcast viewers will be entered in the Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Developer Preview Webcasts Sweepstakes. Each day in a random drawing, Microsoft will select one person to win a Microsoft XBox system (see http://msdn.microsoft.com/SQL/WebcastRules.aspx for official rules).

I know that SQL Server 2005 is still a long time away from final release and you have a job to do today. However, SQL Server 2005 will introduce the most fundamental changes for SQL Server developers compared to any previous release of SQL Server technology. We'll get an entirely new development and management environment based on Visual Studio. And SQL Server 2005 will significantly change the way we build applications with its integration of native XML data type support and of the Common Language Runtime (CLR), along with a host of other development- and administration-oriented changes. Preparing a SQL Server 2005 rollout will be much more involved than the upgrade from SQL Server 6.5 to 7.0 or the upgrade from SQL Server 7.0 to 2000. There's no way you can become familiar with all these new features and technologies overnight, so if you want to be ready for SQL Server 2005 when it hits the market next summer, you need to begin updating your SQL Server skills today. And participating in these Webcasts, presented by the SQL Server developers who are building the new release, is a great place to start.