Oracle Corp, which has been buying companies – Apogee Open Systems Corp, Information Resources Inc – to fill out its software story, appears to preparing itself to acquire a workflow purveyor and a document management vendor in the not-so-distant future, with the $585m cash it has to hand. At its International Oracle Users Week, in Philadelphia in September, chairman and chief executive Larry Ellison said We’ll look for technology acquisitions where they are appropriate. And so while we all thought buying Rdb from Digital Equipment Corp (CI No 2,488) was just a quick way to buy up a bunch of users and convert them over to Oracle it now seems that it was a technology decision, with Rdb Trace and Rdb Expert surfacing as two of the key elements of the company’s high-end systems management software Enterprise Manager (also known as Mission Control). We could speculate that casting about outside the Redwood Shores nest for technology suggests that Oracle isn’t exactly the world’s greatest innovator, but then who is these days? Microsoft Corp? IBM Corp?
Certainly the company is keen to laugh off suggestions that it starts looking outside the confines of its own research and development base precisely when its own internal projects aren’t exactly zipping along. Pure coincidence, says Oracle. But this time last year, Oracle Documents was one of the toasts of the meeting, Documents was initially supposed to be a Notes killer product, then rather rapidly became a complementary offering to the groupware software from Lotus Development Corp, as the two companies grew closer, and whispers of a takeover were mooted. To queries of Documents’ fate, Ellison was candid, saying We totally screwed up the development of Documents – mea culpa: technology changes and we’ve changed our strategy. We messed it up pretty well! was his breast-beating admission. Bearing that in mind then, the home-grown technology on show this time was, the company’s Sedona object-oriented development tool, and Oracle8. These two technologies are very closely tied and Oracle is already being extremely cautious over when Sedona might appear. Sedona is very difficult to develop. It should be out by the end of 1996, but if our last venture into multiplatform tools [the much-delayed PowerObjects] is anything to go by, it could be longer than that, said Ray Lane, president of worldwide operations. It doesn’t appear likely that Oracle8 will be much of a reality until 1997 at the earliest. At the show, developers talked about pre-alpha code, but Lane claims Oracle8 will be in beta in the first quarter of next year. However, he minimised its appeal and that of object-oriented technology in general going as far as to say Objects stores are not that relevant in the market. Although he conceded, OO development is important and We are a big believer in objects. As for actual products: Release 7.3 has made Oracle8 less important, because it does offer object-relational capabilities. The relational stuff will be taken out of 7.3 for 8.0.
From what we could glean of Oracle8, it is indeed an extension of the relational Oracle model we all know and love. It won’t strictly speaking be an object database, but one that supports both object and relational data. The idea is that users will be able to store their data where appropriate, relational data in tables and objects in an object repository. The key differentiator will be that relational tables can be made to look like objects and, therefore, be treated as objects without losing their relational properties. As for Sedona, Sohaib Abbasi, US senior vice-president, tools product division, positions it as a tool that can allay users’ fears about object technology by enabling them to develop scalable enterprise level objects. The tool has four key objectives: to evolve the relational model so users can record more semantics with the tool; building event-driven object user interfaces; supporting software component infrastructures, such as Object Linking & Embedding, OpenDoc and Common Object Request Broker Architecture; and finally developing Oracle’s software engineering tools to the next level. This last feature is an interesting prospect, given that one of the things users picked Ellison up on was that the latest version of Designer/2000, the culmination of Oracle’s software engineering work so far, can only support Windows. Larry replied: It’s not clear if Designer/2000 will ever be on Motif or Unix. We’re currently torn between developing products as quickly as possible and making them portable. Oracle is hard at work on an object repository for Sedona which it plans to integrate with both Designer/2000 and its high-end development tool Designer/2000. The only tool on the market that you can build components in is Visual C++ and that’s some of the most complex code you need to write. Sedona will be our component modelling development environment, it’ll be as easy to write applications with as using Power Objects or Developer/2000 – and so Sedona will become our component factory by integrating with those tools, Abbasi concludes. His boss, Ellison was also asked at the meeting to justify his claim the personal computer is dead… well not really made at the last International Data Corp conference, staged in Paris at the end of the summer.
I never said the personal computer was going to be obsolete. Ten years ago we thought the mainframe would be the last computer ever invented and that we’d done innovating. My God, what have I got on my desktop now but a mainframe, arguably something more complex and expensive than a mainframe – especially if you’re constantly upgrading software. But he was dismissive of the marketing hype that surrounded the launch of Windows95, with stores remaining open until midnight so that people could claim to be the first to posess the operating system. It’s a preposterous way to distribute software – information should come across a network. If it’s Thursday and there’s a new operating system, you should be able to turn on your computer and the new operating system should show up on the network. And as always with Ellison, it all comes back to the Internet. Netscape? Oracle plans to eat the company for breakfast with its Internet Suite, announced this month. It hopes that users will naturally switch from Netscape’s free browser to its own free browser… and then spend money on nice fat enterprise database servers that hook up to the Internet. We’re both a service and an apps provider. There’s a chance if we execute well that we’ll become the dominant solutions provider in the computer industry, he declared: That’s our fantasy.