Oracle says Apex tool won't suffer predecessor's fate

Oracle stressed its ongoing commitment to its latest Web development tool in sharp contrast to its predecessor which the vendor stopped enhancing.

As Oracle officially unwrapped release 2.2 of its free Web application development tool now known as Application Express (Apex), the vendor stressed its commitment to the software's future.

Oracle wants to contrast Apex and Web DB, an earlier development tool along similar lines to Apex, which the vendor effectively drove to an early grave by ceasing to enhance it.

Apex, which became generally available Tuesday, was previously called HTML DB. The tool makes it easier for Oracle users with limited programming experience to build, deploy and manage secure Web applications with information contained in Oracle databases. The name change gives a better idea of what the tool does, according to Mike Hichwa, vice president of software development at Oracle.

HTML DB began life in February 2004 when version 1.5 debuted. Apex 2.2 marks the fourth release of the software, Hichwa said. He was deeply involved in the design of both Web DB and Apex.

"Oracle never killed Web DB; they never enhanced it," Hichwa said. "We created a new product, Apex. There was a broken lineage, it was dropped, then picked up again. I apologize to users. We don't plan on doing that again."

Scott Spendolini believes Oracle is committed to Apex. He quit the vendor's tools division to set up three-person IT consultancy Sumner Technologies, which has based its business on Apex.

"Web DB was a good first try," Spendolini said. "They had the opportunity to do it again and take the lessons they'd learned." Apex is more secure than Web DB and allows users to build applications, not just components that they then have to glue together by writing a lot of code, he added.

The main new feature in Apex 2.2 is the ability to package up all the tables, statements, style sheets and artwork needed to run an Apex application into a single file. That capability should make it easier for users to install such applications since they'll only need to access one file and are helped through the installation process by software wizards.

Oracle developed Apex in-house with the exception of the JavaScript Editor, which it outsourced to Dutch company Q42, Hichwa said. Oracle owns all the Apex code.

Looking ahead to Apex 3.0, planned for summer 2007, Oracle is working on a tool to automate migration from applications based on Microsoft's Access database to Apex. There will also be increased Ajax support throughout the tool.

"It's a chicken-and-egg situation," Hichwa said. "If you go out too leading-edge on Ajax, you lessen the number of browsers that can support" your software, so Oracle looks to strike a balance between strong Ajax support and what browsers Apex can support.

Hichwa has spent over 18 years at Oracle. Back in the late 1980s when he joined the company, Oracle prided itself as being a leader in offering customers strong development tools that were well integrated with its databases. "I think we're kind of going back to that now," Hichwa said, pointing to Apex and SQL Developer, Oracle's first visual database development tool, which appeared in March.

Oracle is now putting "a tremendous amount of resources and effort" into its tools, he added, including work in usability labs tracking users' eye and mouse movements as they try out its software.

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