The problem facing the organisers of this week?s Oracle Open World conference in Los Angeles must have been how to avoid the developer jamboree turning into an anticlimax. After all, the big news of the year as far as Oracle was concerned happened in June, with the long awaited release of the Oracle8 database.
But that didn?t mean there was nothing for Oracle executives to talk about on the opening day of the show on Monday. For a start, there was the thorny question of what lies beyond Sedona, the abortive object oriented tool whose development was embarassingly canned on the eve of the Oracle8 release. Then there was a host of Java-centred announcements and plug after shameless plug for network computers (NCs).
The last was perhaps the least revealing of the pronouncements, but formed the main plank of Oracle president Ray Lane?s opening keynote address. Anyone who?s becoming a tad jaded hearing about the merits of NCs should brace themselves; there?s a lot more coming as Oracle staff are ordered to ramp up the sales pitch for the company?s Network Computing Architecture (NCA).
"I want 10,000 briefings done this year on NCA," announced Lane. "Now we can talk about network computing because it's real. It's here. PCs are not going to be the device that will proliferate to 50 per cent of the world. The goal here is to deploy applications at 50 per cent or (less) cost than today in a client/server world."
As part of the NC push, Oracle has opened a National Centre for Network Computing, a research and demonstration facility in Virginia operated by the company?s consulting practice. The centre will be used to demonstrate NCA solutions to potential buyers, according to Mark Salser, vice president of Oracle Consulting Services. "We have found it critical for customers to see first hand the application of the technology to specific business issues," he said.
Meanwhile the company was showing off an early recipient of chief executive Larry Ellison?s $100 million 'Oracle?s Promise' initiative to provide NCs to inner city schools, with the first machines now installed at LA?s George Washington Carver Middle School and Walnut Park Elementary School.
Over the next 18 months, the company plans to install NCs in 100 California schools and then expand the scheme to a further 10 inner city areas across the US. "Costly PCs further a society of haves and have nots," said Ellison after attending an education round table hosted by US president Bill Clinton in San Carlos, California. "Public schools need affordable an easy to use computers."
Less easy as a sell was the need for the company to complete its spin-doctoring on the thorny issue of where its devlelopment tools strategy is going following the demise of Sedona, the one-time Oracle8-optimised tool which was canned after the company?s own application development team refused to use it.
The answer - as to so many problems in the software industry - comes almost ready-made in the shape of Java. The new strategy is not based around a single product, but series of Java-enabled tools and an extended central repository which pulls the whole thing together, all of which sounds suspiciously like the abortive Case tool strategies of the early 1990s, such as IBM?s doomed AD/Cycle.
Not so, according to tools product manager Steven Erliche, who ruefully suggests that Sedona was Oracle?s AD/Cycle. "The market changed and the technlogy changed," he said, arguing that Sedona was overtaken by events during its three-year development period. "Our mistake was to try and patch the new technology on to what we already had. But we learnt a lot about how relational and objects work together or how they don?t."
So along comes a new Java-centric strategy which includes support for reusable Java Business Objects created by Oracle?s new Java Integrated Development Environment (IDE), which goes into production release later this year. p> The company?s tools business is not doing as well as it used to: the recently released first quarter figures revealed that revenue from the division declined 10 per cent from the same period in 1996. On the other hand, the applications business is booming, up more than 90 per cent on the previous year.
According to Kerry Lamson, vice president of applications product marketing, this is set to continue, despite dire predictions by some analysts that the Year 2000 crisis will cause a slowdown in the market as a whole. Lamson argues that in fact more and more companies are deciding not to pursue non-core activities like developing customised software applications in favour of buying in packaged solutions. The Year 2000 problem is only likely to further this trend, he postulates.
Lamson dismissed suggestions that the company was facing a rebellion by European users who did not want to upgrade from version 10.4 of the applications. Support is being pulled for 10.4 shortly. Lamson said a compromise had been reached whereby the company has agreed to extend support and maintenance of release 10.7 by a further two years to take it past the Year 2000 deadline. Version 11.0 goes on release in the first quarter of next year and will, claims Lamson, be European Monetary Union compliant - or as compliant as it can be without all the specification information from the EU authorities.
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