Oracle released an upgrade to its Oracle9i database product to developers on Monday, adding new XML (Extensible Markup Language) capabilities and other enhancements that it hopes will help it recover ground lost to competitors.
Registered members of the Oracle Technology Network, Oracle's developer program, can download the production version of Oracle9i Release 2 at no charge, and begin the process of testing their applications against the database. A general release date, when the product actually goes on sale, has been set for June, an Oracle spokeswoman said.
Key among the enhancements to Release 2 is XML DB (XML Database), a set of features intended to make it easier for users to store and manipulate documents written in XML, which is becoming a growing requirement as businesses make more use of the data format for online commerce and other types of transactions, according to Bob Shimp [cq], Oracle vice president of database marketing.
"It provides the unification of XML data and relational data in a single database," he said of the new XML support.
For example, "You can store an XML purchase order in a disaggregated format, so that you can see all of the individual components," Shimp said. "You can do any kind of relational query on that, but when you pull the document out (of the database) again it will be fully reconstructed."
Also notable in Release 2: Oracle will make the upgrade available for all platforms simultaneously. In the past it has typically rolled out versions for the popular Unix flavors first and followed later with support for other operating systems. With Release 2, versions for Microsoft Corp. Windows and various Linux distributions will be on offer from the beginning, the Oracle spokeswoman said.
The upgrade comes at a troubling time for the Redwood Shores, California, company. Just last month research firm Gartner Inc. released figures indicating that IBM had dislodged Oracle from the top of the worldwide database systems market in 2001, helped in part by its $1 billion purchase of Informix Corp.
IBM and Informix took a combined 34.6 percent of worldwide new license revenue from database sales in 2001, beating Oracle's 32.0 percent, Gartner said. The market as a whole was worth about $8.8 billion. Oracle noted that it had retained its lead in the narrower market for relational database management systems, which excludes IBM's mainframe databases and products such as Microsoft Access, although even there its share declined, Gartner found.
Oracle said the new XML capabilities will give it a "significant competitive advantage" over products such as IBM's DB2 database and Microsoft's SQL Server, according to Shimp.
Those companies have said that they, too, are boosting the XML capabilities of their products for upgrades planned later this year.
Also new in Release 2 are a series of tweaks and enhancements designed to improve overall performance and reliability, as well as business intelligence functions. For example, the company has improved Oracle Data Guard, Shimp said, which lets companies create a standby version of a database for use in the event of a disaster.
"One of the traditional problems (with standby databases) is that essentially they sit there in a closet doing no work, waiting for the day when disaster occurs," he said. "We now have the ability to use that standby database for a variety of actual work, like reporting activities."
That should help some customers cut costs because they'll be able to off-load some work from their primary database to the standby system, according to Shimp.
Oracle also refined the clustering features in Release 2, which allow customers to run a single database across a group of servers with the goal of improving performance and reducing downtime. With Release 2, Oracle has made it possible for customers using Windows or Linux to create clustered file systems, something that was previously available only to Unix customers, Shimp said.
The OTN Web site is at http://otn.oracle.com/.