As you may have heard, at the recent PASS conference, it came out that SQL Server 8 would likely be called SQL Server 2000 in line with Exchange 2000 and of course Windows 2000. SQL '7.5', an apparent interim release, is now in the hands of some select early testing accounts - approximately 200 or so. These accounts are the first to get their hands on the software - more comprehensive beta testing starts early in 2000.
SQL Server seems to be focusing more on use than infrastructure in this round of updates. When SQL 6.5 gave way to 7.0, the overwhelming work was done at the engine level. This includes a better engine, optimizations, new capabilities and much work to address the administrative details needed to run the server. In the database space, and especially the Microsoft SQL Server space, the update bordered more on revolution than evolution. 2000 will be an evolutionary set of tools that really make the engine accessible and build on the successes of the 7.0 infrastructure.
In this next go-round, you'll see that much attention is paid to new tools to take advantage of the engine. Yes, there will be core functionality updates, but things like OLAP cube connections via an HTTP connection, updates to the English Query engine and such will be the really strong offerings of the new release.
The thin client capabilities will come to mirror dedicated connection abilities, and you'll find that this is a major push on Microsoft applications. It's really a next step for most applications when you consider the overwhelming push to make the Internet available by cell phone, wireless modem and wireless Internet pipes to the office and home-office.
More is sure to come, and of course these features may change since we are so early in the Beta cycle at this point, but it's not difficult to see the overall trend and direction for SQL Server. SQL Server 7 addressed the administration, trying to make it as much hands-off as possible. SQL Server 2000 will make the features easier to access for the end-user and developer community.
In the tradition of swynk.com, you can expect to soon see a Beta section on this site. If you've heard a rumor, seen a story or in general have information to post to the community at large, please feel free to email me and we'll make sure it's included!