Much hyped app server unveiled at OpenWorld

Oracle Corp. officially launched its much-hyped Oracle 9i Application Server last week at its OpenWorld user conference. The fifth annual event drew an estimated 40,000 attendees to the Moscone Center in rain-soaked San Francisco, and featured lots of hyperbole from Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and from Sun leader Scott McNealy.

The new version 2 of Oracle's app server is slated to ship in the first quarter of next year, and was said to include improved support for wireless and voice applications. The new app server also adds support for the latest version 1.3 of Java, for Web Services standards like WSDL and SOAP, and features to ease the process of clustering applications.

Oracle 9iAS will also come with a J2EE application called Mobile E-Mail that allows companies to add wireless or voice capabilities to e-mail and communication programs like Microsoft Corp.'s Exchange and Lotus Software Group's Lotus Notes. Oracle will add programming interfaces allowing J2EE applications to deliver text messages to wireless devices using protocols like SMS, the company said in a statement.

The company also announced plans to launch an online portal resource for developers that are building wireless applications.

During his keynote, Ellison outlined what he called "the unbreakable enterprise," which combines the Oracle9i Database and the new app server. "Any application you have can be faster, more secure, and more reliable with Oracle9i Database and Oracle9iAS," Ellison said. "If the application server goes down midway through a transaction, you don't lose the transaction because the application migrates from one machine to another."

Ellison slammed chief rivals IBM and Microsoft, claiming that their software is slower and less secure than Oracle's, and ultimately more expensive. He maintained that users would have to pay $140,000 for a 500-user license for Microsoft Exchange running on a four-CPU server. But because the Oracle9i database comes bundled with an e-mail server, he said, Oracle customers get the same number of users on the same hardware for $80,000. IBM users, he said, pay $272,000 for software to build a portal for 25 users, while Oracle bundles portal software with its application server, making it possible to build a similar portal for $40,000. The competing vendors were quick to counter the claims via press releases and in press interviews.

During his closing keynote on Thursday, Sun Microsystems CEO, Scott McNealy, also ridiculed IBM's mainframe and server business, announced a new pairing of Sun hardware and Oracle software, and took a shot at long-time archrival Microsoft.

"[IBM] has more answers," McNealy said. "That's good. Complexity is their friend. We think you guys have better things to do."

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John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].