The construction of high-density linkage maps for use in identifying loci underlying important traits requires the development of large numbers of polymorphic genetic markers spanning the entire genome at regularly spaced intervals. As part of our efforts to develop markers for rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), we performed a comparison of allelic variation between microsatellite markers developed from expressed sequence tag (EST) data and anonymous markers identified from repeat-enriched libraries constructed from genomic DNA. A subset of 70 markers (37 from EST databases and 33 from repeat enriched libraries) was characterized with respect to polymorphism information content (PIC), number of alleles, repeat number, locus duplication within the genome and ability to amplify in other salmonid species. Higher PIC was detected in dinucleotide microsatellites derived from ESTs than anonymous markers (72.7% vs. 54.0%). In contrast, dinucleotide repeat numbers were higher for anonymous microsatellites than for EST derived microsatellites (27.4 vs. 18.1). A higher rate of cross-species amplification was observed for EST microsatellites. Approximately half of each marker type was duplicated within the genome. Unlike single-copy markers, amplification of duplicated microsatellites in other salmonids was not correlated to phylogenetic distance. Genomic microsatellites proved more useful than EST derived microsatellites in discriminating among the salmonids. In total, 428 microsatellite markers were developed in this study for mapping and population genetic studies in rainbow trout.