I have used VistaDB Express for many hobby projects in the past and found it to be simple and reliable. This blog is running on VistaDB Express and it has never given me any trouble. Unfortunately, with the release of VistaDB 4 there will no longer be a free edition available for any purpose. While this is very disappointing I can understand why they have taken this stance.
Sorry, we had to discontinue the free edition of VistaDB due to the support demands, and the number of companies who were using it for commercial purposes. We have to put food on the table and feed our families just like anyone else, this was the free as in beer problem (it cost us a lot to build and support, but people used it to make money and not pay us).
When it comes to small hobbyist projects this is not the end of the world, as there are other free products available that will meet such needs. I made the jump over to SQLite, another very popular and free embedded database engine. The main reason I chose to use VistaDB Express over SQLite in the past, was the fact that it had a wider range of supported data types and good management tools provided out of the box. However, there is a free management tool for SQLite called SQLite Database Browser that does a good job, and when used with a decent ORM the reduced number of supported data types in SQLite is soon forgotten.
I have been using LightSpeed Express from Mindscape as the ORM atop of both database engines, and I must say that I absolutely love it. This free edition is limited to creating a model with at most eight classes, which I have found to be enough when coding for fun. If you don’t need many entities in your model it is well worth using given the features it provides. To see how the LightSpeed feature set stacks up against other ORM technologies including LINQ to SQL and LINQ to Entities have a read of the comparison document on the Mindscape website. LINQ to LightSpeed is the standout feature that makes this framework a winner for me. It enables you to use LINQ against any of the databases that LightSpeed supports: SQL Server, Oracle, PostgreSQL, MySQL, SQLite, VistaDB, Firebird and Amazon SimpleDB.
LightSpeed has an editor for Visual Studio that allows you to build your model in a manner similar to that provided by LINQ to SQL and LINQ to Entities. You can even use the design time tools to create a new database from an existing one. This is exactly what I did when moving an existing project from VistaDB Express to SQLite.
The LightSpeed designer extends that portability to design time. By changing the connection string and data provider on a model, and choosing Update Database, you can rapidly create much of your schema on the new database, rather than having to manually translate the SQL CREATE scripts from one dialect to another.
Once you have a good ORM in place you tend not to worry so much about the underlying database engine, well at least when your requirements are simple and you have no desire to spend money. This was certainly the case for me with VistaDB Express and SQLite. It would be interesting to know how many other VistaDB Express users have switched to a completely different database engine for their home projects despite the low price of the entry level VistaDB 4 Lite version. Regardless, I can assure you that LightSpeed Express will make any database engine you choose easier to work with, and like any good ORM will allow you to more easily change it at a later point in time.