Moderated online chats can be a great way to learn from leading technology experts and your peers. But I've typically had difficulty fitting them into my workday. My boss and coworkers will agree that I do little enough work during the day as it is, so I try to limit my educational experiences to evening hours. However, I try to make an exception for the monthly online SQL Server chats that the Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) and Microsoft TechNet host.

In the spirit of disclosure, I should mention that I'm a PASS volunteer, so I might be biased. But without doubt, PASS and TechNet have secured an impressive quality of topics and hosts for the monthly chat sessions. Topics have included SQL Server hardware tuning, efficient T-SQL programming, SQL scalability and very large database (VLDB) technology, SQL replication, SQL Server 2000, Data Transformation Services (DTS), and most recently, Microsoft OLAP. Not only have the topics been timely and practical, but senior Microsoft program managers and lead developers have regularly shared their insights and explanations. Throw in a bevy of well-known industry experts as chat cohosts, and you have a program that provides free access to brain-trusts that would cost tens of thousands of dollars to bring on site (if you could tear them away from their busy schedules).

You owe it to yourself to make a standing date to participate in the PASS chats every fourth Wednesday of the month at 10:00 A.M. Pacific Standard Time (PST) or 18:00 Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). If you have a hard time getting to these chats during the "live" part of the broadcast, you can still learn a lot by reading the edited transcripts available for free download. Of course, if you can't make the live session, you can't ask your own questions, but sometimes the best tips come from questions you wouldn't have thought to ask. For more information and access to past transcripts, visit the PASS Online Chats Web site. You can also send questions in advance to chat@sqlpass.org. For more information about other TechNet-hosted chats and participation instructions, see the TechNet Technical Chats page.

And in the latest SQL Server 2000 update, senior SQL Server product managers say that release to manufacturing (RTM) for SQL Server 2000 is on track for late July. By now, if Microsoft didn't think late July was realistic, the company would be trying to manage expectations. RTM in late July means you should see shrink-wrapped SQL Server 2000 in August; Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) subscribers should be able to download the final bits even sooner.