Product review: Oracle alleviates web content jam

Many organisations experience frustrating delays when attempting to get new or updated content into Web applications or onto Web sites. Most content-creation tools on the market today require some degree of development expertise - creating bottlenecks for fast-paced content updates.

Oracle WebDB 2.0 neatly resolves the bottleneck by wrapping extremely easy-to-use content-creation tools into the familiar Web-browser interface. Content-creation duties can be distributed to end-users who will need little training before becoming productive with WebDB. Building and maintaining Web applications and sites in this manner will reduce, if not eliminate, the resource constraints found at companies that rely on distributed content input.

WebDB is an addition to your existing Oracle database -- the only other prerequisite component is a Web browser. However, WebDB supports databases beyond the required Oracle database. Sites with mixed databases can use gateway support in the Oracle database to tap into data from other sources: Those working with Oracle and non-Oracle data in WebDB will find the representation to be identical.

Although WebDB does not have any direct competitors, several aspects of the product compare favourably to other solutions that help resolve the content development problem. For example, WebDB's browser-based capabilities are as easy to use as those of MaxSol's DBLive@Web extranet development tool. In both cases, end-users can create and maintain content without necessarily having development experience. However, more experienced users have the added flexibility of choosing whether to employ WebDB's graphical wizards.

Additionally, WebDB's data accessibility function is as simple to use as that of other database-to-Web products, such as Elemental Software's Drumbeat. However, WebDB's seamless database ties add several unique advantages.

For example, Web applications and sites are stored inside the Oracle database, which yields greater control and easier deployment. Likewise, built-in performance metrics, version control, and database security improve application manageability.

Impressive additions

My copy of the shipping version of WebDB was significantly improved over the beta version I evaluated in 1998. Oracle has added automated installation and detailed documentation to the final version.

WebDB worked equally well with my Oracle7.3 and Oracle8 installations, although it did take me longer to set up the product with Oracle8. I also tied in some other data sources that are representative of mixed environments.

Web browser in hand, I was able to explore my data -- including objects, tables, and views. I successfully edited and ran stored procedures. I found the tools in the "build" area especially useful. I was able to construct chart and report components, build test Web sites, export components, and much more.

The built-in wizards are helpful for creating individual application components. The Form wizard enabled me to quickly build customer service and inventory components. Even experienced developers will find the wizards useful to boost productivity.

Reining in content development

Administrators will find WebDB to be a manageable solution for distributed, team-based content creation, because it leverages database security. The administrator assigns content tasks to various users. Individual end-users can then create or edit content for their portion of the application or site. Web pages are automatically regenerated to reflect updated content.

When changes are made, the revisions are tracked in case a rollback is needed. The search engine is automatically updated as well.

WebDB is especially strong in the area of built-in performance monitoring. A number of metrics can be measured, such as component or page requests, response time, browser type, and user requests. Reports and charts that include performance data can be easily generated, and managers can also create custom queries of this data.

Organisations already using an Oracle database should investigate WebDB as an add-on that viably reduces content-creation resource bottlenecks. Its ease-of-use, creation capabilities, administrative controls, and built-in performance monitoring will allow companies to speed up Web content updates without expending extra time and employee resources, thus cutting down on the costs for supporting fast-paced Web applications or complete Web sites.

Senior Analyst Maggie Biggs (maggie_biggs@infoworld.com) evaluates enterprise technologies at the InfoWorld Test Center.

Business benefits: WebDB cuts Web maintenance costs-- Easy-to-use, built-in facilities to distribute content-creation tasks-- Browser-based development and deployment-- Web-based database application and Web site creation-- Database-controlled site content management, monitoring, security, and administrationTHE BOTTOM LINE: EXCELLENTOracle WebDB 2.0This extremely easy-to-use, browser-based Web application development tool is ideal for building and maintaining Web-based database applications or entire Web sites. Organisations will see a reduction in resource bottlenecks for content creation and improved Web management.

Pros: Minimal end-user training; central control via database-centred management; useful administration and monitoring tools; integrated security.

Cons: None noted.

www.oracle.com

Price: $US195 per concurrent user; $US95 per named user.

Platforms: Server: Solaris, Digital Unix, HP-UX, AIX, Windows NT; client: Any browser.

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