'Net is the End, Ellison Says

For those curious about what the next computing architecture will be after the Internet, believed by many to be on its way to replacing the client-server model, Oracle Corp. chief Larry Ellison has the answer: Nothing.

Asked here today to forecast the architecture that will take over in five or 10 years, Ellison first said that a decade is a long time in computing, but quickly added, "Let me say something provocative."

Up to that point, Ellison had been his usual opinionated self, but he hadn't said much that would be considered provocative, or even new. Although his physical presence was expected by the crowd gathered to hear his keynote address at the Oracle Applications User Group (OAUG) conference, the chief executive officer and chairman didn't show up in person. Instead, he was beamed in from Oracle headquarters in Redwood Shores, California, and seen on four huge screens stationed at the front of the convention center hall.

"There will be no big architecture change," Ellison said of the future of computing. The Internet will take hold as the model of a mature industry after which technology will continue to change, with faster microprocessors and other advances, but the search for the ideal method of accessing and sharing data will be over.

"I don't believe there is anything after the Internet,'' he said. "It's the last big paradigm shift."

Ellison expressed this view, and multiple others, during a question-and-answer session with the audience following what for him was an extraordinarily short keynote "speech" lasting all of 15 minutes and delivered in a casual manner that had him at one point pulling a troublesome ear piece out of his left ear and tossing it down his back to dangle there so that he could finish talking without being bothered.

"Technology!" he huffed as he removed the piece, which eventually had to be put back in so that he could hear questions from the audience, some of whom had pointed queries related to the highly-touted upcoming Oracle Business Applications Release 11i.

The first question came from someone wondering when Oracle will stop adding functions to 11i. The questioner said he has been waiting for various features and not just the Internet capabilities that Oracle has emphasized in its marketing campaign.

"I'm losing credibility with my customers," the man said. "I'd really appreciate a (release) date I can count on."

Ellison eventually said he believes the applications will be released in February, but he first defended the delay. The updated and vastly changed applications suite was due out late this year, but has been pushed back to the first quarter of next year because of technological snags and because as the original release date drew near it became clear that customers would wait to buy the new applications suite, originally due out when many companies are freezing purchases and new installations because of year 2000 computer concerns.

Ellison actually provided more detail about the target date and about the reasons for the delay, giving a specific month, if not a day, as opposed to the nebulous "first quarter" other executives have given here, and also admitted that there were glitches in the development, as well as year 2000 timing issues.

"As we got closer to the Y2K boundary, we thought it was silly to release it," he said, adding that deciding to delay a release is not an easy option but the key is to decide what is the best for the greatest number of users.

Although he answered every question posed to him during the hour-long query session, Ellison was most animated when talking about the Internet, his enduring theme for the last several years (apart from bashing rival Microsoft Corp., which he seems, mercifully, to be doing a lot less these days).

"The Internet is so low cost and so easy to use, you can put all of your employees online, all of your suppliers online," he said.

The current most-used client-server model is too complex and puts on desktops far more software than typical business users need, Ellison said. Until recently, he didn't use Oracle applications, he said, but has begun to do so since his company has moved toward having the Internet be its internal architecture.

Repeatedly using enterprise resource planning (ERP) software as an example, Ellison said that under the traditional system model, only 5 percent or 10 percent of employees at big companies use ERP, but that when ERP is created for Internet use, virtually all employees will use the applications.

The key, in Ellison's view, is to replace "absurdly complicated" computer systems with something simpler. In the past, when PCs were much more expensive, he spoke often of the "network computing" model, in which thin clients, rather than PCs loaded with software, access software applications that reside on servers. Ellison didn't foresee the drastic price drop that occurred with PCs in the last year.

Still, the network computing architecture he has also championed has begun to come to pass and some here have suggested that it is far too early to assume Ellison's predictions were awry.

While the terms he uses have shifted somewhat, Ellison's theme has remained the same. Although more than half of those who packed the convention center hall left by the time he finished answering questions, some who stayed said they weren't dismayed that Ellison didn't appear in person and they weren't there to hear anything new.

At least part of the choir to which he preached at the OAUG conference wanted to hear their own opinions validated by Ellison, whom they admire.

"We wanted to hear a rearticulation of the vision," said Phil Cifarelli, director of financial services and associate treasurer at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York.

"We believe in it," he added of the approach being taken by Oracle and Ellison. "Obviously, we're here."

The OAUG conference continues here through Thursday.

The OAUG can be reached at http://www.oaug.com/. Oracle, in Redwood Shores, can be reached at +1-650-506-7000 or at http://www.oracle.com/.

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