Oracle's 'Web 2.0' interface coming this month

Oracle will release WebCenter this month, a tool for building user interfaces that include Web 2.0 tools like blogs and wikis.

Oracle plans to release WebCenter Suite before the end of the month, a product for building application interfaces that incorporate content from a variety of sources as well as "Web 2.0" tools such as blogs and wikis.

The software aims to make workers more productive by providing access to a variety of content and services from one screen, so they don't have to flip between different applications. Other vendors including IBM Corp. and Microsoft Corp. are working on similar functionality.

Oracle announced WebCenter Suite at its OpenWorld conference in October. It will be sold as an add-on to Oracle Application Server Enterprise Edition for US$50,000 per CPU.

At the heart of the product is WebCenter Framework, a technology based on Java Server Faces that lets developers embed AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) components, portlets and other content into a user interface. The suite also includes WebCenter Services, for embedding services such as Oracle Enterprise Search, VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) calling and wiki-building tools into the interface.

For example, a manager's interface might include content from a PeopleSoft expense reporting application. If the manager wants to query an expense item, the interface could include VOIP and presence capabilities that allow the manager to click on the employee's name and initiate a VOIP call, said Rahul Patel, vice president for Oracle server technologies.

In another example, a manager in charge of a project could set up a wiki using a template and software wizard and invite members of the project team to participate.

Andreas Chatziantoniou, a software consultant with Accenture Technology Services in the Netherlands, said WebCenter's appeal lies partly in its close ties with Oracle's database and application server, meaning Oracle customers can use those existing infrastructure products to deploy the blogs and wikis.

Oracle's applications customers should also pay attention to WebCenter Suite. As well as being offered as a stand-alone product, it will eventually serve as the default interface for Oracle's Fusion applications, a merger of its Oracle, Siebel and PeopleSoft applications due in 2008.

"Details on the functionality planned for the initial Fusion application release are nonexistent to date, but now we can at least see how Oracle thinks users will interact with the future suite," wrote Jim Murphy, an analyst with AMR Research, in a research note about WebCenter.

Despite the similarities with portal software, Rahul said WebCenter is essentially the opposite of a portal: It allows developers to put portal elements into an application (or application interface), rather than putting applications content into distinct portal product.

Still, at least one customer writing on the Oracle Technology Network wondered how long his investment in Oracle Portal would remain viable, given the apparent overlap between the products. Peter Moskovits, product manager for WebCenter, replied that Oracle Portal and WebCenter Suite would coexist at least "for the foreseeable future."

Developers can include portlets created for any standards-based portal server in the WebCenter interface, Patel said. However, for companies that have not yet deployed a portal server, he recommended moving straight to WebCenter Suite.

Other Web 2.0 software being developed for the enterprise includes Microsoft Corp.'s SharePoint 2007, SAP AG's Project Muse interface, and products from small companies like Serendipity Technologies Inc., said Mark Levitt, vice president for collaborative computing and the enterprise with IDC. IBM also entered the game this week, announcing plans to bring Web 2.0 capabilities to its Lotus Notes collaboration software.

"Oracle WebCenter is the most ambitious attempt from a large established vendor to enable IT and end users to create mashups from any applications and information sources, not just Oracle's," Levitt wrote in an e-mail responding to questions. IBM's software will also support enterprise mashups, he added.

WebCenter's release may coincide with a Jan. 31 event in New York where Oracle plans to launch updates to each of its applications suites -- the E-Business Suite, PeopleSoft, JD Edwards and Siebel.

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