Microsoft has announced a change in SQL Server 2005 beta programs. Don't worry—it's not a delay; the change will get new SQL Server 2005 betas to you sooner rather than later. In an email to SQL Server 2005 beta testers last week, Microsoft Senior Vice President Paul Flessner said that as part of the company's efforts to work more closely with beta testers during the product-development cycle, the SQL Server team decided to release Community Technical Previews (CTPs) for SQL Server 2005. "The SQL Server 2005 CTPs are interim builds of SQL Server 2005 between major betas that will enable you to test and experiment with new features as they are added to the product without having to wait for the next beta," Flessner's memo explained. "Your involvement during the development cycle will ensure that we ship a better product."

So what's a CTP release? Let's not mince words: It's beta software. Essentially, Microsoft has decided that it has made enough improvements to SQL Server 2005 since Beta 2's release to make the product valuable and stable for testing and learning purposes. As Flessner noted, Microsoft based its decision to release CTP builds for SQL Server 2005 on the helpful feedback that the development team received during SQL Server 2005 Beta 1's limited community release. The company hopes to release more than one CTP version between now and the official public beta, Beta 3. That decision depends on how much feedback the community gives the SQL Server development team. Microsoft developers are using the CTPs to get more feedback about how to improve the product, so let's give it to them! A lot of work goes into a CTP release, so it's not worth Microsoft's time to produce one unless we provide feedback that the SQL Server team can use to make the final release better. If Microsoft doesn't get much feedback, we might have to wait for the next beta to get any new bits.

Users who have access to the SQL Server 2005 download area on BetaPlace ( http://www.betaplace.com/ ) received the first CTP last week, and within the week, MSDN Universal, Enterprise, and Professional subscribers will be able to download the CTP from the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) Subscriber Downloads site. I haven't explored the CTP release yet, but here are a few enhancements Microsoft told me to expect:

  • SQL Server Integration Services (formerly, Data Transformation Services—DTS) improvements in designer performance, error messages, and consistency between component UIs.
  • Analysis Services performance improvements in cube processing as well as enhancements to queries and the MDX debugger; faster and more accurate data mining algorithms; greater flexibility and customization in the usage of Actions and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs); better error handling and error messages; and UI improvements.
  • Performance and quality improvements in the SQL Server engine
  • Is Beta 2 upgradeable to CTP, or will you need to reinstall SQL Server 2005 to Beta 2? Because Microsoft doesn't perform beta-level testing on CTPs, the company recommends not running the CTP on the same machine as the betas—you should keep them separate. Of course, Virtual PC from Microsoft (or other virtual machine technology) is a great way to deal with multiple software versions on one physical machine. If you're wondering about SQL Server 2005 ship dates, Microsoft is still planning to release Beta 3 in the first quarter of next year and the final product next summer.