I Feel Like a Magician

I ran across this comparison of SQL Server to PostgreSQL. It’s written from the point of view of a PostgreSQL developer, who certainly doesn’t like the Microsoft product much, with no shortage of complaints. Whether you agree or not, I do think there are a few valid points.

However one of the quotes that really caught my attention was in the section on converting dates. The author says that “MSDN provides a table of these magic numbers.”, referring to the arcane and completely unintuitive format codes that we use with CONVERT(). Fortunately FORMAT() was introduced in 2012, and simplifies things, but still has issues and limitations.

Certainly all systems and languages will have some codes and parameters that don’t make sense, left over from earlier times for backwards compatibility. However the more I look at T-SQL and SQL Server, the more I do find it silly that many of the small conveniences haven’t evolved across the versions. The bcp utility is outdated, functions haven’t been updated to work with more than 8,000 characters, SSIS has issues with CSV files, and more.

It does seem at times that when I’m answering questions on the Internet that the answers I give, while logical and familiar to me, seem magic to others. This might be especially true when talking about transaction logs, which still seem far to difficult for many people to grasp.

I enjoy working with SQL Server and look forward to a long career in the future developing software on the platform, however I do worry about some of the long term health of the platform for new users. It seems that the usability advantages of SQL Server have dramatically narrowed in recent years, and in some ways the other platforms have implemented features that SQL Server is sorely lacking.

Hopefully Microsoft will focus on reducing the friction of manipulating data in SQL Server. Not that SQL Server will go away, but I can see companies migrating to other platforms if it becomes substantially easier and cheaper to manipulate data.

Steve Jones

The Voice of the DBA Podcast

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About way0utwest

Editor, SQLServerCentral
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2 Responses to I Feel Like a Magician

  1. Ivan Dimitrov says:

    First off, Thank you for the podcast.
    I’m a jack-of-all-trades system administrator working in the linux/PostgreSQL world. Recently I moved to management position and now I have my first PostgreSQL DBA. While I acted as PostgreSQL DBA myself in the past, this is the first time I work in an environment with a full time DBA. Because of that, I downloaded all episodes of the podcast and listened them in two days, just to learn more about the position and responsibilities. I strongly disagree on some of your points, but that is actually what I was looking for – clarifying my own opinions. Thank you again.

    On topic – I’ve worked with PostgreSQL for around 12-13 years and I have experience with SQL Server 2012 for 1 year only. While I _LIKE_ PostgreSQL more, I don’t think SQL Server is a lesser database. There are of course differences, but not so much that anyone should be worried of loosing a job because his database choice would loose popularity. And believe me, PostgreSQL needs to step up the game on some of their implementations.


    • way0utwest says:

      I wouldn’t say SQLServer a lesser, but rather that the author of the piece referenced makes some good points. There should be less “magic” knowledge needed in SQL Server, and some of the things that are easy to do in PostgreSQL should be in SQL Server.

      At the same time, SQL Server does a lot of things very, very well, and I’m sure PostgreSQL (and other RDBMSes) could improve in their own ways to meet what SQL Server does.

      Happy to have you disagree, and debate the topic. I’m not sure I’m right, but I am putting out some of my opinions.


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