Do you have a passion for technology? Do you enjoy helping the technical community you work in? Have you wanted to participate in a SQL Server beta program but don't know how to get involved? You can serve your passion and your community by nominating yourself for consideration as a beta tester for one or two of the SQL Server beta programs currently seeking participants. Just visit the SQL Server beta registration page at http://www.microsoft.com/sql/evaluation/betanominations.asp. These beta programs are slated to close in September, so get cracking if you're interested in beta testing SQL Server 2000 Service Pack 3 (SP3) or SQL Server 2000 64-bit Beta 2 (code-named Liberty).

A SQL Server beta coordinator tells me that these betas are shaping up to be some of the best Microsoft has offered. These programs offer better interaction with the product team, access to detailed technical information about the product that might not otherwise be publicly available, and of course, freebies to the most active beta participants.

Michael O'Connor, a program manager with the SQL Server beta team, is especially excited about the SP3 beta, scheduled to start in mid- to late September. "It's almost time for the newest service pack for SQL Server 2000, and you don't want to be caught unprepared for this one," O'Connor says. "In addition to the normal QFE fixes, the top service pack requests from our PSS organization, and the latest security fixes, this service pack will be shipping with MDAC 2.7 SP1."

If you're more interested in beta 2 of the 64-bit version of SQL Server 2000, Microsoft, which released beta 1 last February, has some information for you. Liberty Beta 2, scheduled to start in late September, will incorporate all the updates of SQL Server 2000 SP3 and will be optimized for the newest addition to Intel's Itanium processor family: the Itanium 2 processor. If you've been considering moving to the 64-bit platform, the 64-bit version of SQL Server 2000 is what you need to begin building and testing your mission-critical applications on.

The SQL Server development team relies on feedback from beta testers to ensure a quality release, so your participation in beta-testing programs can make a significant difference in a product's development. Not feeling philanthropic? How about this for motivation: Regular and active beta testers have many opportunities to develop personal relationships with senior members of the SQL Server development teams. Contacts in Redmond can be worth their weight in gold when you've got a problem to solve. Need a bit more icing on the cake? The most active beta testers for current SQL Server beta programs will be first on the list to participate in beta testing for the Yukon beta when it ships sometime next year.