Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Microsoft is reaching out to nonprofessional programmers with a revamped line of developer tools, including a free version of its forthcoming SQL Server database.
As , the company launched the new line of "Express" brand developer tools at its conference in Amsterdam on Tuesday. The lightweight editions of its Visual Studio line and SQL Server database are meant to expanding Microsoft's presence among students and hobbyists.
Microsoft executives also confirmed that beta versions of SQL Server 2005 and Visual Studio 2005 are "imminent." Completed products are expected in the first half of next year.
At the same time that Visual Studio 2005 and SQL Server 2005 are made available, Microsoft will release the Express line, which will include stripped-down versions of its Visual Basic, Visual C#, Visual C++ and Visual J++ products. The company will also release a free SQL Server Express Edition. A new product, Visual Web Developer 2005 Express Edition, will be priced in the "tens of dollars," said John Montgomery, director of marketing for Microsoft's developer division.
Montgomery said Microsoft is targeting a large population of people—the company estimates that there are 18 million nonprofessional programmers, compared with 6 million professionals—who want cheap or free products appropriate for building business applications. Often, nonprofessionals use Web-oriented tools, such as FrontPage or Macromedia Flash, which are suitable for front-end design but not database-driven business applications, he said.
The Express edition of SQL Server 2005, also planned for release next year, will be limited to a single server processor, 1GB of memory and 400GB of storage. Even with these restrictions, Microsoft expects the database to compete with open-source alternatives, such as , said Tom Rizzo, director of product management in the SQL Server unit.
"It is really for a data-driven application where you just want a place to put your data in and maybe have it interoperate with (higher-end versions of) SQL Server through replication," Rizzo said.
The Express edition allows developers to use Visual Studio to write "stored procedures," or pre-written database queries, with different programming languages and store XML as a data type. However, it does not have reporting capabilities or the same management tools as the full-scale editions of SQL Server, he said.
Microsoft also plans to announce an agreement with Amazon.com and eBay to make software development kits for Amazon, eBay and PayPal Web services available to Microsoft developers via download.