Oracle takes aim at .Net with new Web software

The spokesperson for the Oracle Applications User Group (OAUG) Australia is taking a wait and see approach to Oracle's latest offering which is targetted at Microsoft's .Net initiative.

"Oracle is very good at vision. But the trouble with looking into a crystal ball is that it is easy to stray from your goals. I won't dismiss Oracle's new offerings out of hand, but I am interested in actually seeing what it is offering," said Jeannie Dobney, director for OAUG Australia.

Central to Oracle's announcements, which take aim at Microsoft's .Net initiative, was Oracle 9i Dynamic Services, a framework that builds on Oracle's 9i database products and lets companies create Web pages that incorporate a variety of content, including corporate data such as e-mail and sales figures, along with services like currency converters, language translators and shipping services.

Oracle also announced, an online destination where businesses will be able to build and configure their Web sites -- or "business portals" -- using Oracle's software. Oracle will also offer to host those Web sites on its own servers, officials said.

"Our goal is very simply to become the desktop for e-businesses," Larry Ellison, Oracle's chairman and chief executive officer, said at a press conference, which was also broadcast over the Internet.

Dobney said it had been a "long-time ambition of Larry Ellison to take on Bill Gates. And I think most users would welcome an alternative to Windows".

At the site, customers will be able to select prebuilt "portlets" to create applications for business intelligence, calendaring and scheduling, as well as syndicated content such as news and travel information. Oracle officials described portlets as pieces of prebuilt code that can be integrated into a business Web site.

Oracle also announced that it has revamped its Online Technology Network (OTN), a resource for developers, to create a Web-based environment where programmers can build and deploy portal applications online. The site includes two new tools that will be available at no charge -- Oracle Portal Online Studio, for creating portals, and OracleMobile Online Studio, for building wireless applications.

The company's efforts reflect a growing trend in the computer industry towards offering software and services over the Internet that can be accessed from all types of devices ranging from PCs to handheld computers. The idea is to help companies cut down on the cost of installing, managing and upgrading the software on their own computers and, at the same time, let users access their data from any computer fitted with a Web browser.

Oracle officials went to great pains to contrast their announcement with Microsoft's .Net initiative, a comparable effort launched earlier this year that aims to provide software and services for Web-based computing. Microsoft has said it will roll out .Net products gradually in the coming years. Oracle officials repeatedly tried, at the press conference, to portray Microsoft as being tardy in its efforts.

".Net is all about delivering a bunch of products in about two years time in order to allow people to go and build services," said Mark Jarvis, an Oracle senior vice president. "That's not what this is about at all. This is about delivering a bunch of services now in order to deliver services -- .Now."

A Microsoft spokesman countered that Oracle's efforts are merely an endorsement of similar initiatives already under way in the industry. Along with Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard has also been touting software for sharing services and information over the Web.

Hosting a Web site at will be free for the first three months, Oracle officials said. After that, businesses will be required to pay $US100 per gigabyte per month, regardless of how many users access the site. Oracle plans to make money from the effort by charging for some of the services that it offers at the Web site, Ellison said. In addition, larger businesses that like the portal products may choose to deploy them internally. They would then have to pay Oracle a licensing fee, he added.

Ellison acknowledged that selling the Web-based services model to customers -- and even to Oracle's own sales force -- might take some work. Trying to position Oracle as a leader in the field, he said the long-term rewards of the transition would be worthwhile. "We're faced with the same problem Galileo had -- we're saying this is a new idea and this is right, and everyone else is saying Oracle is wrong," he said.

This move doesn't mean Oracle will take its eye off its mainstay database business. Oracle will continue to pursue that operation with as much gusto as ever, Ellison said.

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