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Kevin Kline

Help Me Update the History of SQL Server

I was chatting with my buddy, Buck Woody (Twitter | Blog), about a week ago and we were discussing that it's pretty hard to put together the entire history of SQL Server.  Then the thought hit me that I'd already done this, to a degree, in my book Transact-SQL Programming.  This was the first Transact-SQL programming book on the market way back in the SQL Server 7.0 days and even included full coverage of both Microsoft and Sybase variants of T-SQL.

The thing is, I was never able to put out a second edition due to some legal and contractual issues.  So, help me catch up on the history of SQL Server:

The Ancient History of Microsoft SQL Server

SQL Server, like many things related to SQL, is a story of diversity.  At one time, both Sybase and Microsoft had virtually the same product with Sybase's product targeted at Unix and enterprise environments while Microsoft targeted only the Windows enterprise.  Today, the two products are entirely divergent.  The code base for each product is unique to each platform and shares no code at all.  For a while, both Sybase and Microsoft called their flagship database product "SQL Server", but now, Sybase  calls their implementation of the product Sybase Adaptive Server Enterprise. So while the two products are now completely distinct, they continue to share a strongly similar Transact-SQL implementation.  Other less noticeable similarities persist, such as the use of Tabular Data Stream (TDS), tempdb architecture, and a few other odds and ends.

Perhaps you want to know more about how things got to be the way they are?  By reading this section, you will be making an admission that many programmers and developers are loath to - history is interesting ... perhaps even enjoyable.  This is not actually a sign of weakness as some might attest. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, please read on.  Table 1-1 shows the evolution of both Microsoft and Sybase’s version of SQL Server’s.  

Notice that I stop at more than a decade ago.  Help me add the subsequent details by leaving a comment!  Extra points if you know the code name for each release.

1987 - Microsoft Buddies Up with Sybase

Microsoft and Sybase announce a technology and marketing partnership.  Microsoft gets exclusive rights to market Sybase’s DataServer product on OS/2 and all Microsoft-developed operating systems.  Sybase gets royalties and added credibility in the Unix and VMS markets. (Remember VMS?)  Sybase ships their first commercial DBMS product, called DataServer, for Sun workstations running Unix.

It was only 20 years prior that the first Super Bowl was played as the Green Bay Packers of the National Football League defeated the Kansas City Chiefs of the American Football League, 35-10. (Hey, now this is important!)

1988 - Microsoft Buddies Up with Ashton-Tate

Microsoft and Ashton-Tate announce a marketing partnership.  Microsoft can’t put a dent in dBase’s tremendous market presence.  Ashton-Tate wants access to Sybase’s powerful multi-user database management technology, which ships this year.  Microsoft forms a three-way alliance.

Another interesting three-way alliance was also making headlines at that time, as independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh probed the Iran-Contra affair.

1989 - SQL Server v1.0 Ships

Ashton-Tate/Microsoft SQL Server version 1.0 ships.

Perhaps not coincidentally, NYC transit fare rises from $1.00 to $1.15.

1990 - Microsoft Ships SQL Server v.1. for, OMG, Windows!

Ashton-Tate dBase IV was floundering.  Microsoft wanted to beef up its offerings for the new OS/2 LAN Manager product.   Microsoft and Ashton-Tate quit the partnership.  “Microsoft SQL Server” version 1.1 ships by summer with support for Windows 3.0

Another partnership came to an end that year: ousted Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega surrendered to U.S. forces, after taking refuge in the Vatican's diplomatic mission. 

1991 - Microsoft Goes All-In on Windows 3.0

A proliferation of Windows 3.0 front-end tools spurs the growth of Microsoft SQL Server. Later that year Microsoft and Sybase amend their contract to allow Microsoft to make actual bug fixes - all under Sybase supervision.  IBM and Microsoft call off their OS/2 partnership with Microsoft to focus on Windows.  Sybase surpasses the $100 million revenue mark and goes public on NASDAQ.

Almost one thousand years ago to the day, significant improvements in front-end tools (i.e. the plow and horse yolk) spur a huge population boom in Europe.  The Vikings and Europeans call off their partnership, with the Vikings dragging off most of the loot.  Meanwhile, Islam is continuing its military expansion throughout the world. Fortunately, medieval Europe does not have to endure lengthy beta programs, although computer geeks have to endure a plague of viruses. No fair!

1992 - Microsoft Goes Nuts on Windows NT

Microsoft and Sybase SQL Server 4.2 ships. Microsoft diverts its attention away from OS/2 and into developing Windows NT.   Microsoft SQL Server for Windows NT later ships in beta release while Sybase ships its much-vaunted System 10.

A famous diversion of attention in the political arena, you ask?  Then President George H. W. Bush lost his lunch during a state dinner in Tokyo; White House officials tried to deflect attention saying Bush was suffering from stomach flu.

1993 - Microsoft and Sybase Become Unfriends

Microsoft Windows NT 3.1 ships, closely followed by Microsoft SQL Server.  By 1994, Sybase SQL Server System 10 and Microsoft SQL Server were competing unabashedly as the two formally ended their partnership.  (This is about the time that I started to use Microsoft SQL Server 4.21 on OS/2).

Likewise, the American voting public formally ended their relationship with “Read my lips” President George H. W. Bush. 

1995 - Microsoft Enters the Enterprise Computing World

Microsoft SQL Server 6.0, a very significant release, ships in June.  Up until this time,  most Microsoft products were considered departmental-level only.  SQL Server also begins to push out many PC-level database products, with the noticeable exception of Microsoft Access.  Access will be a thorn in the side of SQL Server DBAs until ... uh ... probably 10+ years from now.

Other significant release for 1995 included O.J. Simpson - not guilty.

1996 - SQL Server 6.5 Goes Into Production

Though released in April, it’s no April Fool’s joke.  SQL Server 6.5 is the most powerful and capable version Microsoft had ever produced. It also received considerable press because of its innovative user interface and free tools.

1997 - Microsoft SQL Server 7.0 Beta Released. Remember the Code Name?

Is there a causal relationship between the Monkees' appearance at the Hollywood Bowl (June 10, 1967) and the first shipment of the Apple II Computer (June 10, 1977) and the release of MS SQL Server 7.0 beta (June 10, 1997)?  It does make you wonder, doesn’t it?

1998 - Microsoft SQL Server 7.0 RTM

Microsoft offers another set of new innovations in the SQL Server 7.0 release, including an "all-in-the-box" strategy.  Other major DBMS vendors had, and still have, separate products for ETL (extract-transform-load), administration tools, scheduling, and business intelligence.  Not Microsoft.  With SQL Server 7.0, Microsoft included the Data Transformation Service (DTS) for ETL work, Query Analyzer and other administration tools, OLAP services (my brain gets a little cloudy on this one), along with the already existing scheduler, SQL Agent.  

2000 - Microsoft SQL Server 2000

Branding experts said that version numbers should get too big, or else customers would perceive the software as stodgy and old fashioned.  So Microsoft switched from the version number nomenclature to the one highlighting the year of the release for SQL Server 2000.  This release included the game-changing Enterprise Manager (EM). Forced many other DBMS companies to at least attempt to build useful tools (anyone use SQL*Plus from Oracle).  Again, my brain is getting dusty with old age and too many releases, but IIRC this was the release in which Microsoft finally got ride of page-level locking in favor of row-level locking.  That shuts up a lot of Oracle-bigots, but doesn't truly ease their smarmy attitude.  Grudge matches continue unabated.

I'm going to follow-up with another blog post carrying forward with SQL Server 2000, including highlights for important half-steps like SQL Server 2000 SP3, the "Slammer" security release.  

Feel free to throw down some of your SQL Server trivia knowledge about release and features for releases.  Share a picture of one of your old boxes, if you have one!



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Published Wednesday, September 12, 2012 11:01 AM by KKline

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Gianluca said:

7.0 code name was Sphinx. I don't have a photo of the boxes, but I have one with Tony Rogerson in front of a Sphinx poster taken at a summit in 1998 :)

September 12, 2012 5:59 PM

Peter said:

Here's another link that might be useful

And here's some pictures of the old boxes (with signatures of the devs on them)

September 13, 2012 7:24 AM

KKline said:

Gianluca and Peter, thanks so much for adding to the conversation!

I hear that Kalen also wrote extensively about the history of SQL Server in her "Inside SQL Server" books.  I'll have to look that up as well.


September 16, 2012 8:39 PM

Roy Harvey said:

Late to the party, but...

I think it is worth pointing out that the "support for Windows 3.0" in release 1.1 was strictly on the client end.  SQL Server itself ran strictly on IBM's LanMan OS.  They offered a package deal with LanMan and SQL Server bundled together; that's what I started with.

October 8, 2012 3:41 PM

KKline said:

Hi Roy, You and Kalen were the very first MVP types I remember following closely on ... wait for it ... CompuServe.  Remember that?  Any time I think of CompuServe, I always remember the whine and squeal of the dial-up connection processes.  ^_^

Great insight!  I appreciate you adding your two cents!


October 9, 2012 9:55 AM

SQL Lover said:

Not much is written about the development of Sql Server 1.0 or the pre-Soukup releases. Although Sybase coded the Server itself - Microsoft coded the installer, SAF and added to some of the core stored procedures.

Bob Muglia was hired on as Microsoft's first Sql Server fulltime employee, as Program Manager.  He came from IBM where he did not fit in very well.  Bob's first, and perhaps last, code that he wrote for Microsoft was SQL Server 1.0's installer.

Next, Greg Crafts was hired from Systems Development Corporation (later bought by Raytheon).  Initially in charge of SQL Server testing, he later created a team of developers.  SQL Server 1.0 shipped with his code in the form of the system procedure SP_HELPSQL for online SQL syntax and help.

Greg then went on a Test and Developer hiring spree:

Craig Henry, developer, was hired to develop SAF, the 'character based windowed front end" that was used to administer SQL Server. This same, in house windowing, system was used in the early Lan Manager days as an easy/portable terminal input/output system.  However, it was not portable to Kanji and the Japanese developers were not happy when this system was used.

Jack Love, Developer and Tester.

Trish Millines, Developer and Tester.  Little known fact, Sql Server 1.x was shipped with a bug that could corrupt the database.  It's cause was never discovered.  It could have been an OS/2 issue, a networking (LanMan) issue, or a Sql server issue.  Trish worked tirelessly trying to come up with a scenario which would recreate the corruption - but could never find one.  She just knew after the fact...when the database was corrupt.  Management decided to ship (Adrian King?) dispite this issue - which seemed to be the right decision as no corruption issues were reported from the field.

Mike Erwin, developer.

There were others, many contractors, but that was the core dev/test team back in 'ancient Sql Server days'.  I hope this helps.

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About KKline

Kevin Kline is a well-known database industry expert, author, and speaker. Kevin is a long-time Microsoft MVP and was one of the founders of PASS,

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