I'm not going to try to answer that question. Instead, I'm going to ask a different but related question: How do you know what free product to download to get what you need?
That's right - Microsoft is giving away so much free stuff that figuring out what free stuff to take can be confusing.
I've been looking at SQL Server Express Edition lately. As a database professional and MSDN subscriber I have never really paid much attention to the Express editions of the various Microsoft developer tools, but I've had reason to do so lately, and have been surprised (and a little confused) at what I've found. For example, did you know:
- Microsoft gives away a free version of its powerful SQL Server relational database management system called SQL Server 2005 Express Edition? You probably did know this. I did.
- Microsoft also gives away a free version with a scaled-down version of SQL Server Management Studio, SQL Server Reporting Services and full text search, called SQL Server 2005 Express Edition with Advanced Services? You may have know this. I think I did.
- Microsoft also gives away, as a separate download, a set of tools called the SQL Server 2005 Express Edition Toolkit that only includes the client tools and a version of Business Intelligence Development Studio that can be used to develop and deploy reports for use with SQL Server 2005 Express Edition with Advanced Services? I had no idea.
Fortunately the fine people at Microsoft have published a SQL Server Express Edition Comparison online where you can learn the differences between all of the free SQL Server Express Edition things that they're giving away. This is all well and good, but it truly boggles my mind that it has to be this complicated to get stuff for free. Why is there no single installer that you can download once and then simply pick the features you need when you're installing the product?
Why indeed. Hopefully this product proliferation will be taken care of in SQL Server 2008, and we won't have any need for a comparison checklist of free things. And if not, maybe I'll finally learn to just appreciate what I have and stop looking at this horse's mouth quite so closely... With that said, when compared to navigating the Oracle product catalog, finding out what Microsoft product you need is a walk in the proverbial park, so things could always be worse...
 That's just weird.