The best way to learn a programming language, environment or database system is to use it. If you have the chance to play with it, everything you read in the books and on-line about it will make more sense. You’ll get to test ideas, see what happens when you try something this way instead of that way and try out all the neat features that make this version (supposedly) better than the last. One problem though, development tools and environments can be very expensive.
I’m a Microsoft programmer primarily, so lets look at some costs for their products
Visual Studio runs from $799 to $2169 depending on the version.
A license for SQL Server Standard is $7,171. A license for SQL Server Enterprise is $27,495 and those prices are per processor! Have a 4 processor server? Well, you can do the math. But don’t panic, they’ve done something wonderful.
You’ve seen various trial editions that expire after 6 months, but you’ve been busy and barely played with it for a few days. You’ve seen express editions that are very limited in functionality and sometimes cause problems when you try to upgrade from them. SQL Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008 R2 have a beautiful solution.
SQL Server Developer Edition for $50 or under. And it isn’t some cut down version either, you get the equivalent of the Enterprise edition with all the Business Intelligence tools: SSIS, SSAS and SSRS. The only catch is that you can’t use them commercially. If you want to learn SQL Server or improve your skills at home, buy a developer’s edition and play with it.