As of this writing, SQL Server 2008 RC0 is widely available, just not completely open to the public yet. It's available through Microsoft’s Connect site for MVPs and other specially selected partners, as well as through TechNet Plus and MSDN (for subscribers only). The earliest "official" announcement about SQL Server 2008 RC0 was by Andrew Fryer, an IT pro technical evangelist for Microsoft in the UK, in his blog at http://blogs.technet.com/andrew/archive/2008/06/06/sql-server-2008-rc0.aspx. Note that Andrew’s blog also mentions a 30 percent discount for TechNet Plus subscribers, but it might just be for UK subscribers. (The day I did the final edit of this article, Microsoft made SQL Server 2008 RC0 publicly available at http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyId=35F53843-03F7-4ED5-8142-24A4C024CA05&displaylang=en.)
So what exactly is an RC, anyway, and how is it different than a beta? RC stands for release candidate, as in this build could actually be the final product release. However, the fact that Microsoft gave this release candidate the number 0 makes me think the company doesn't really believe this release could be the final product. So why didn't Microsoft just call it a beta? I did quite a bit of searching online, but I couldn’t come up with an official explanation of what the difference between betas and release candidates actually is. I did find several semi-official definitions of "beta," all of which indicated that a beta is a pre-release version of a software product. So perhaps beta is a generic term and release candidate is more specific. But more searching led me to find that some products had a series of beta releases, followed by a series of release candidates, whereas some vendors called any betas after beta2 release candidates. SQL Server 2008, however, never had any releases called betas, at least none that were available to a substantial number of users outside of Microsoft. Microsoft started using the term Community Technology Preview (CTP) instead of the term beta, and a half of dozen SQL Server 2008 CTPs have already been released.
Obviously, SQL Server 2008 RC0 isn't really even in the running to be the final product. Microsoft wants to make SQL Server 2008 more available, so more people and organizations will test it, which means more bugs can be found and fixed. How many SQL Server 2008 release candidates there will be depends on how many bugs are found in each one.
So I’ve mentioned how Microsoft benefits from you installing a release candidate, but what’s the benefit to you? For trainers and writers, such as myself, we need early access to learn about the product and share our knowledge with others, and I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to have early access. But what about for businesses running their enterprise on SQL Server? I know many organizations prefer to wait for the first service pack before trusting their business to a new product, thus letting Microsoft get all the kinks (i.e., bugs) out. However, other organizations see the value in being on the "bleeding edge." Even if you're planning to wait for SQL Server 2008 SP1, it’s probably a good idea to at least set up some test environments with the SQL Server 2008 release candidates, so you can get an idea of what the next SQL Server version might mean to your business.
You might even find that there are new features in SQL Server 2008 that can drastically improve your business processes or lower your cost of doing business and decide not to wait for SQL Server 2008 SP1. The following are some of the features in the SQL Server 2008 database engine that you might want to get familiar with:
And don’t forget there are many more improvements and enhancements in SQL Server 2008 outside the database engine, such as in business intelligence, SQL Server 2008 Integration Services, replication, SQL Server 2008 Reporting Services, and Service Broker.
So what are you waiting for?