Product review: Oracle Lite 3.5 extends corporate data

Palm and Windows CE devices have proven handy for managing personal information, but not so useful for mobile employees who need to work with corporate data in the field. Oracle Lite 3.5 provides good manageability, connectivity, and application options that make corporate data access via personal digital assistants (PDAs) much more feasible.

In particular, this release gains improved replication support, along with SQL access via a Web browser plug-in. It also boasts boosted Java support. Oracle Lite meets rival Sybase Adaptive Server Anywhere head-on with support for both Palm and WinCE devices. And, Oracle Lite proves to be a stronger solution than Microsoft's Pocket Access, which is limited to WinCE devices.

Oracle Lite proved quite useful during my tests on both WinCE and Palm devices. Whether emulating field sales employees, a remote office, or accessing data via a Web application, Oracle Lite worked flawlessly.

I found only one disappointing aspect to Oracle Lite -- its database engine is not yet supported on Palm devices, although the company expects to do so by the first quarter of 1999. Instead, Oracle Lite 3.5 includes a feature called Consolidator.

The Consolidator lets Palm users replicate (or HotSync) data with a version of Oracle Lite running on a Windows NT server or a Windows desktop machine, which in turn replicates with the Oracle8 database. This worked fine during my tests, but having direct replication from the Palm to Oracle8 would be an improvement.

Replication on WinCE devices proved very easy to set up and execute, and Oracle Lite supports network, wireless, modem, and serial connections. There are three transport mechanisms for replicating when using WinCE devices -- HTTP, Oracle Mobile Agents, and File-based.

HTTP transport proved most useful during my tests, although I had to also install and use Oracle's Application Server. The Mobile Agent support is best for wireless connections and it too worked well. I liked File-based transport of data the best since it gave me application-level control over when my data would be replicated.

Like rival Sybase, Oracle Lite sports Java Database Connectivity support. Oracle also includes automatic object-relational mapping with persistent Java objects as well as Java stored procedure-based trigger creation.

Those who want to develop Web-based WinCE and Palm applications will like Oracle Lite's Internet SQL. This feature provides SQL access in HTML applications via a browser plug-in.

Also notable are Oracle Lite's support of row-level locking, multiple development tool options, and the small footprint it takes up on mobile devices.

I was able to create applications for my test devices using Inprise's JBuilder and MetroWorks CodeWarrior. Oracle also supports its own JDeveloper, Symantec's Visual Cafe, and several other development tools for creation of PDA-based applications. And, running Oracle Lite on my test devices consumed less than 750K bits.

Oracle Lite 3.5 makes manipulating corporate data via a Palm or WinCE device a plausible idea. If your mobile workers are tired of lugging around notebook computers, Oracle Lite is worth investigating.

Maggie Biggs is a senior analyst at the InfoWorld Test Center who evaluates application development and database technologies. Send her e-mail at: maggie_biggs@infoworld.com.

The Bottom Line: Very Good

Oracle Lite 3.5

Managing business data and applications for PDA-based mobile employees moves forward as Oracle Lite gains improved connectivity options, expanded replication functionality, and broader application support.

Pros: Access SQL via Web browser plug-in; automatic object-relational mapping with persistent Java objects; replicate Windows CE devices via mobile agents, HTTP, or file; replicate Palm devices via Consolidator.

Cons: Oracle Lite database engine support limited to Windows CE devices.

Platforms: Palm and Windows CE devices.

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