By Deane Barker

One of our clients has started working with some software that uses the MSDE – the Microsoft SQL Desktop Engine. This is a stripped down, black-box version of SQL Server for people that need a database server but don’t want to pay for SQL Server nor need all its super-powers.

MSDE is stripped down in two ways.

  1. It comes with no client tools, like Enterprise Manager or Query Analyzer. It’s supposed to be a black box which your software knows how to operate, but you can’t see into.

  2. It’s performance limited. It has a “workload governor” that “stalls” the app for a few milliseconds whenever it’s fielding more than 5 – 8 connections (the exact number depends on the version).

The second limitation there may not be a big deal for an office scenario. In our case, the client has a dozen users that may or may not be connected at any given time, so the scalability limitations are never an issue.

The first limitation can suck, however. I don’t like black boxes, especially when it comes to data storage. I want to know what’s going on inside my database. To do this, I found a few tools that will do just this for the MSDE, and bring it ever so closer to SQL Server.

  1. DbaMgr gives you a really nice graphic interface into your MSDE install, including databases, tables, users, and access to automated backup. It’s free.

  2. is a site that sells two tools and gives one away. MSDE Query is free, and lets you run ad hoc SQL on your install, a la Query Analyzer. MSDE Backup does just that for $18, and MSDE Admin gives you a little Enterprise Manager goodness for $22.

  3. SQL Buddy doesn’t appear to be under active development anymore, but it’s open source.

  4. MSDE Manager might be a Cadillac of MSDE tools at $79. The screenshots look great.

Microsoft has a whole list of “MSDE partners” here.

So would the MSDE work for Web sites? I don’t know – it’s certainly a step up from Access, but I don’t use Access anymore either.

Another question about MSDE: with the advent of SQL Server Express – the free version of SQL Server – is the MSDE still going to hang around? Or are its days numbered? I can’t find anything on “MSDE 2005,” and if you Google for that, Microsoft has purchased AdWords to direct you to SQL Server Express, which would seem to indicate that it’s a dead product.

Finally, for the record, while I’ve never been a big fan of Microsoft for server technologies, I’ve always liked SQL Server. My first official Microsoft training was an MCDBA track on SQL Server 7.0, and I’ve used the information I learned from that class six years ago over and over again since then.

Microsoft may not do everything right with servers, but SQL Server is a fine product, no matter how much you hate Redmond.

This is item #251 in a sequence of 356 items.

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