"You get what you pay for" is a common saying. It's often true, but sometimes you can get a free lunch, and that's a good way to think about the value Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Desktop Engine (MSDE) offers. I'm surprised more customers don't consider MSDE a viable option for their production-database needs. Yes, I did use production database and MSDE in the same sentence, and no, I haven't had too much New Year's egg nog.

MSDE certainly isn't appropriate for medium to large database applications; however, countless customers use Microsoft Access for their production-database needs, and Access is arguably less scalable than MSDE. Plus, migrating to SQL Server is easier if the application is designed for MSDE rather than Access. It's impossible to say exactly how large a system you should consider running with MSDE. But if you're running 25 users or fewer with a moderate or low transaction workload, you might get by fine using MSDE, and it's free.

Over the past two years, I've dealt with a few dozen customers who were in the process of evaluating MySQL (a Linux database), other free databases, and Microsoft Access for small database needs. Many of these customers wanted SQL Server but couldn't justify the cost of a full version of SQL Server for one reason or another. In most cases, MSDE was an appropriate choice to consider based on the application's technical needs, however, the customer didn't consider MSDE as a viable candidate. I've seen customers roll out SQL Server Standard Edition at significant cost when MSDE would have been appropriate given their technical and business needs. Lucky for them, I was there to point it out!

Using Microsoft's free database for small-business production environments will be an even better option in calendar year 2005, when the company adds a number of enhancements to SQL Server 2005 Express Edition, SQL Server 2005's answer to MSDE. For more information about SQL Express and MSDE, see my July 2004 commentary, "In the Express Lane with SQL Server" at http://www.windowsitpro.com/Article/ArticleID/43234/43234.html .

I can't tell you all the steps you need to go through to decide whether MSDE will meet your organization's needs, but I encourage you to investigate MSDE as an option. Microsoft has a good place to start: A link on the SQL Server home page, "Is MSDE a better choice for your database needs?" takes you to the MSDE home page at http://www.microsoft.com/sql/msde/default.asp . Microsoft has a lot of information that's helpful for customers who are trying to decide whether MSDE is right for them.

On a final note, at the beginning of December, I wrote about the release of SQL Server Express Manager's Community Technical Preview (CTP) in "More SQL Server 2005 Bits" ( http://www.windowsitpro.com/article/articleid/44774/44774.html ). Express Manager is a new GUI toolset for administering SQL Server Express. MSDE doesn't ship with an integrated administration tool, which can make even simple administration tasks cumbersome. In December, I said that current MSDE users are forced to manage their databases by using Microsoft command-line tools or third-party tools. I was so excited about Express Manager and the idea of improved support for managing the smaller versions of SQL Server that I neglected to mention SQL Server Web Data Administrator, an MSDE management tool that Microsoft released last April. Although it's not as full-featured as Enterprise Manager or Express Manager, Web Data Administrator is a tool that can help you with many simple MSDE-administration tasks. You can download it from http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=C039A798-C57A-419E-ACBC-2A332CB7F959&displaylang=en .