I've never been that impressed with SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS). To me, it's always felt like a last-minute decision made by marketing folks who were more interested in forcing the "Studio" branding than developer and DBA productivity. Service packs and SQL Server 2008 have ameliorated my sentiments a bit, and SSMS is much better than the tools that ship with most other database platforms, but I've long wondered whether I'd jump ship if I could find another suitable product that met my needs. After working with Toad for SQL Server for a few days, I'm finding myself thinking about making the switch.

There are three versions of Toad for SQL Server. The Professional Version costs $595 and, in my mind, provides the best cost to value ratio. Toad for SQL Server Xpert, $1,045, adds T-SQL tuning wizards and capabilities, and Toad for SQL Server Development Suite, $1,295, adds benchmarking capabilities. For this article, I reviewed the Development Suite, which is available as a free trial.

Figure 1: Toad for SQL Server's GUI. Click to expand.

Installing Toad for SQL Server 4.1 on 64-bit Windows Vista was a breeze, and the quick-start documents provided by Quest gave me a great overview of Toad before I used it. A connection manager made it easy to manage server connections. Toad is much more responsive and fluid than SSMS; using Toad feels like driving a Ferrari and SSMS feels like driving an old farm truck. Toad's object explorer fairly closely matches the functionality provided by SSMS' object explorer, but double-clicking an object such as a stored procedure or table instantly loads the script for the selected object along with an extremely impressive bevy of context-sensitive metadata, shown here. The data includes object sizes, constraints, permissions, and dependencies. This metadata display represents one of Toad's greatest strengths, as it shows exactly the kind of things that DBAs and other serious database professionals would want to see when interacting with objects.

Summary
Quest Software's Toad for SQL Server
PROS: Mature and highly customizable management and development UI, many improvements over SSMS; includes log file reader, schema/data synchronization, and other tools; very fluid performance.
CONS: Versions other than Professional are a bit high-priced for what they provide; similarity to SSMS will cause long-term SSMS users a bit of pain as they adjust to different work flows, paradigms, and keyboard shortcuts.
RATING: 4.5 stars
PRICE: $595 for Toad for SQL Server Professional, $1,045 for Toad for SQL Server XPert, and $1,295 for Toad Development Suite for SQL Server (adds Benchmarking capabilities). Support and bulk-pricing options are also available.
RECOMMENDATION: Toad for SQL Server offers a number of great tools and options for DBAs and developers that facilitate database interaction and allow for extensive customization of work flows and the UI. SQL Server developers and DBAs should definitely give Toad for SQL Server Professional a test drive.
CONTACT: Quest Software • www.quest.com

Toad offers an impressive amount of customization. It comes with a number of skins and themes to match user preferences, customizable keyboard shortcuts, and a variety of advanced preferences and configuration options. Toad also provides other features beyond its responsive and customizable UI. For example, all versions of Toad include log reader functionality (which allows you to review SQL Server's log files and do undo and replay operations), schema and data comparison and synchronization tools, and custom reporting and automation engines or frameworks. These tools alone can almost justify the cost of the Professional version in some environments.

Of course, Toad comes with the basics that you need to manage and develop databases. There's an ER diagramming tool, a visual query builder, support for backup and restore operations, and the ability to view and manage jobs. In short, Toad offers everything you need to replace SSMS, plus an assortment of other tools and utilities.

I noticed a few times that using Toad is close enough to SSMS in many ways that it feels like you're using a souped-up version of SSMS. However, many of the keyboard shortcuts and options you may be used to using in SSMS aren't where you'd expect them. Because everything is customizable, there's really no reason you couldn't get things working exactly how you'd want them. Also, I'm unsure what to think about Toad's lack of support for T-SQL templates, despite how cool Toad's snippets support is. But one thing is for certain: Toad for SQL Server is definitely worth a look, and depending upon your work habits and needs, you might find that after using it a bit, you'll be tempted to kick SSMS to the curb.