Before I go any further, I'll spare you the suspense: Yes, Sybase is letting Linux users run Sybase Adaptive Server Enterprise (ASE) 11.0.3 for Linux, for free. No restrictions, no tricky licence, no catch. The only requirements are that you run it on Linux and don't try to make it work on any other operating system, and you don't go public with performance benchmark results.
I suppose there is a catch: You can't get this from Sybase. But Linux vendors Red Hat and Caldera include Sybase ASE with their latest releases. And you can download Sybase ASE for Linux from Red Hat's and Caldera's Web sites.
Ever the sceptic, I expected the free Linux version of Sybase ASE to be somehow crippled, lamed by its maker so it wouldn't compete with Sybase's other products. In fact, the only thing you can take away from Sybase ASE for Linux is that its version, 11.0.3, is not what Sybase is shipping to paying customers. This is small potatoes considering this database manager is the real deal. Highly optimised, extraordinarily powerful, thoroughly documented, mature, and bulletproof. I expect this to be, in the server realm at least, Linux's killer application.
I chose an unusual method to test Sybase ASE for Linux. In my lab, I'm running Microsoft SQL Server 6.5, a database manager that has its foundations in Sybase code. I wired Sybase ASE for Linux, running under Red Hat Linux 5.2, together with my Windows NT Server system. I wanted to see how close I could get to replacing an existing Microsoft SQL Server back-end with Sybase ASE. The most I hoped for was that I would learn a lot about Sybase's product.
It wasn't a total success -- Microsoft's graphical SQL Enterprise Manager won't talk to Sybase ASE -- but Microsoft's standard SQL Server ODBC driver worked flawlessly. I was able to use Active Server Pages, Visual C++, and Visual InterDev to build database-aware applications and communicate with Sybase ASE for Linux without difficulty. Microsoft's driver knows it is talking to an older SQL Server, so graphical design aids and other new features are disabled. Yet it does access database schema information, perform queries, and return result sets (called recordsets) with alacrity remarkably close to that of Microsoft's costly database.
How seriously should you take Sybase ASE for Linux? Very. It suffers only minor limitations. In my tests, I was unable to allocate more than approximately 50MB of RAM to it. That is acceptable for a small-scale application, but you would want more headroom if you planned to serve hundreds of users. Linux's standard ext2 file system is not a top performer. Sybase ASE supports raw-mode disk access, a feature that I did not have time to exercise. Sybase does not support this product, nor does it supply the source code. Fixes will be offered at Sybase's discretion. Support in the Linux community, however, particularly in Usenet newsgroups (alt.linux.* and comp.os.linux.*) should be strong.
Sybase ASE is the most powerful commercial application ever ported to Linux. This is a big-league database with all its features intact. You will find no better SQL database learning environment (forget Access and FoxPro), and developers and Webmasters on a budget will get unmatched bang for the buck using Sybase ASE for Linux as their back ends. Sybase has, with one magnanimous gesture, given life to Linux as a database server.
Tom Yager is a project lead at Healthweb Systems, in Irving, Texas. He specialises in application development, databases, and OSes. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The bottom line: excellent
Sybase Adaptive Server Enterprise 11.0.3 for LinuxSybase's database for Linux is a commercial, multiuser SQL database server. This product's value is so high that it's a steal.
Pros: Feature-rich; optimised; mature; well-documented.
Cons: Linux's lackluster disk speed.
Price: Free of charge, no user limits.
Platforms: Intel PCs.