Microsoft launches long-awaited updates

SQL Server 2005 and Visual Studio 2005 upgrades finally released, along with low-cost versions and new BizTalk server. Photos: Ballmer's keynote

SAN FRANCISCO--After a number of delays, Microsoft on Monday launched long-awaited updates to its flagship database programs and developer tools.

CEO Steve Ballmer officially launched SQL Server 2005 and Visual Studio 2005, along with a new beta version of the company's BizTalk Server software, at an event at the Moscone West convention center here.

Ballmer said that the new versions represent major advances, but acknowledged they were "a little bit long in coming." It's been five years, for example, since Microsoft released the last version of SQL Server.

"At least a little more rapid cycle time would be appropriate," Ballmer said.

In addition to the standard products, Microsoft announced a free "express," or stripped-down, version of SQL Server and a $49 express version of Visual Studio. Oracle last week said it was making a free, limited version of its database available.

"Our goal with this set of releases is to have something for everybody," Ballmer said. "We haven't forgotten the broadest set of developers we have, which are these Web developers, students and hobbyists."

Microsoft also introduced a Workgroup edition of its SQL Server product for small businesses, which costs $3,899 per processor.

The Standard Edition of SQL Server went up in price from $4,999 per processor to $5,999, and its Enterprise Edition price remains the same at $24,999 per processor.

Alongside the main Visual Studio 2005, Microsoft introduced a high-end edition called Team System, which is aimed at groups of programmers, testers and architects. Visual Studio 2005 Team Suite starts at $10,939 and is used with server software components that range in price from about $500 to $5,000.

Microsoft said late last month that it had wrapped up development on the Visual Studio and SQL Server updates.

BizTalk 2006, which is in beta now and will be available in the first half of next year, is designed for linking different applications. Microsoft had originally been aiming to get the final version of the software out by the first quarter of next year, but an executive said the company made the timing change "to set expectations conservatively so we can be sure we can meet them." The integration software sends data between different applications and completes tasks, such as converting between different document formats.

On Monday, Microsoft said that the adapters to different packaged applications, including Oracle eBusiness Suite, Peoplesoft and Siebel, will be available for free with BizTalk 2006.

BizTalk 2006 will build in more capabilities around automating workflow and be designed to collect and process data from radio frequency ID readers, according to company executives.

Ballmer: No job too big
Ballmer used part of his keynote to talk of the gains that Microsoft had made in being able to handle tasks that were previously limited to Unix-based servers and mainframes.

"Today we should be able to convince you that there is no job too big to run on the Windows and Microsoft platform," Ballmer said. He brought up Intel CEO Paul Otellini, who showed off the latest in Intel and Windows-based hardware from makers such as Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, NEC and Hitachi. Otellini also touted the added ability from within Visual Studio 2005 to work directly with Intel's compilers and tools.

In discussing SQL Server, Ballmer also reiterated a Microsoft pitch to win Oracle database customers, offering a 50 percent discount for some customers that switch to SQL Server from rival products. Oracle, for its part, issued a statement touting its support for Microsoft's new developer tools and the Windows version of its database software.

Although Monday was focused on Microsoft's traditional software products, Ballmer made a brief references to the company's expanded services effort, including its launch of Windows Live and Office Live last week.

"We know we need to evolve our platform from client and server all the way out to the cloud," Ballmer said.

Microsoft also showed off the ability to access SQL Server 2005 data directly from within Excel in Office 12, the new version of the desktop suite that is due out in the second half of next year.

PCL Constructors, an Edmonton, Alberta-based construction company, used the new database and developer tools to build a system for managing documents across desktop computers throughout North America. The system allows the documents to be stored primarily on the desktop rather than on a central server, with only the changes being sent across the network.

"We're hoping to get good performance without having to put servers everywhere," said Gerry Salm, a systems and technology manager at PCL.

An executive at Avanade, the consulting firm that helped PCL build its system, said that the new programs have a lot to offer, but said that the five years it took Microsoft to upgrade SQL is too long for companies to have to wait for some services.

"Eighteen to 24 months seems about right to our customers," said Larry Barnes, Avanade's enterprise collaboration practice director. "That syncs up with what Microsoft and the SQL team is looking for the future. A lot of our customers feel comfortable with that."

CNET's Martin LaMonica contributed to this report.

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