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Oracle challenges collaboration giants

Oracle Corp., out to give Microsoft and IBM a run for their money in the communications and collaboration markets, debuted a new version of its Collaboration Suite at its annual technology and user conference in San Francisco last week. The database giant reached out specifically to users of Microsoft's Exchange Server 5.5, offering special prices to those who would switch to the Oracle product rather than accept the scheduled upgrade to Exchange Server 2000.

''There are a lot of customers who are very upset with Microsoft right now,'' said Mark Jarvis, Oracle's chief marketing officer. ''It has changed its enterprise licensing, dramatically increased prices and on December 31 it obsoletes Exchange 5.5 and NT, so a lot of customers are being pushed to upgrade.''

Oracle unveiled the first version of its database e-mail, voice mail, and file-searching package just a couple of months ago. Oracle Collaboration Suite 2 adds an integrated set of real-time collaborative functions, called iMeeting, which facilitate shared browsing, a shared ''whiteboard'' and other collaborative features. It also includes Oracle's portal facility. The product is due to ship by mid-2003, officials said.

Industry analysts calculate that IBM and Microsoft currently control a combined 85% or so of the total market for enterprise messaging, groupware or collaborative products. Yet, except for instant messaging, Microsoft does not yet ship native collaboration tools with Exchange Server 2000.

Oracle's Jarvis estimated the total cost of upgrading to Exchange Server 2000 at $100 per user, compared to an estimated $29 per user for Collaboration Suite.

Observers did note that the practice of discontinuing support for old products is not unique to Microsoft. Oracle, for example, will discontinue support for Version 10.7 of business applications next summer, requiring customers to upgrade to 11i. Oracle said it has supported 10.7 for seven years, far longer than most other companies support their software.

The annual OracleWorld conference (formerly known as Oracle OpenWorld) attracted 23,000 attendees last week to San Francisco's Moscone Center.

In other news from OracleWorld:
Oracle CFO Jeff Henley told a keynote audience on Monday that he expects the company to 'return to positive growth' in 2003 after nearly two years of revenue declines. ''During the first half of calendar 2003, we'll start to see this thing turn around,'' Henley said.

On Tuesday, Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. revealed that it would bundle Oracle's middleware on some of its systems as part of a three-year contract that calls for the companies to jointly develop, build and market middleware products based on the Oracle 9i application server. HP said it would offer a free version of the app server to customers who buy its HP-UX systems and ProLiant servers.

On Thursday, Oracle Chief Larry Ellison delivered his conference keynote via satellite from New Zealand, where the well-known sailing enthusiast was competing in the Louis Vuitton Cup as part of the Oracle BMW Racing team. Ellison talked to his audience about the ''three most serious problems in information processing'': data fragmentation, incomplete software integration and incomplete automation. Data fragmentation, which is the result of too many different databases in an enterprise that do not work well together, results in incomplete integration.

''We're in the business of selling databases and you have bought too many of them,'' Ellison told the audience of Oracle users. ''You have so many separate databases all over your organization that it's very difficult for you to know where to look when you need some information.''

Incomplete automation, he said, is a consequence of companies selling incomplete systems. ''By that I mean you couldn't just take them and plug them into your business and operate your system,'' he said.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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