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Oracle Updates Free Browser-Based Dev Tool

Oracle has just released a new version its free, browser-based app dev tool: Application Express 2.2. Known internally as APEX, the tool has been integrated with all editions of Oracle Database 10g and Oracle9i Database Release 2. 

This is the fourth release of APEX, which first appeared in February 2002 as Oracle HTML DB. The tool is designed to enable users with limited programming experience to develop scalable Web apps that access data from Oracle databases.

APEX is another example of a relatively new class of very-easy-to-use dev tools targeting the so-called corporate developer–that relatively tech savvy non-programmer within a company who is sometimes called upon to build what Mike Hichwa, Oracle's VP of software development, calls "opportunistic applications."

"These are projects with little or no formal specifications given to that department expert with some basic knowledge, but no CS degree," Hichwa says. "Someone walks into your office and says, 'Sales in Europe are really taking off. We need to build a system that tracks this, that, and the other thing.' Those types of small-but-important projects come up all the time in a company and APEX is a great tool for them. You just go to a Web browser; click, click, click; and you're done. You don't have to talk to anyone in IT. No one has to return an email. It's a self-service model."

Oracle Application Express is not a replacement for Java or .NET programming environments, Forrester analyst Noel Yuhanna observed in a recent
"Quick Take," and it's not likely to motivate customers to migrate to the Oracle DBMS. But it does provide what Yuhanna calls "an accessible tool for developing simple, Web-based applications that can consolidate many distributed desktop databases and spreadsheets to a centralized repository."

The most significant new feature in this release, Hichwa points out, is its ability to package all the tables, statements, style sheets, and artwork needed to run an APEX app into a single file. This capability is designed to make it easier for users to export and install an application in another Oracle DB.

Also new in this release:

  • An access control wizard, which gives users the ability to build an access control list and to control access to an application, individual pages, and page components.
  • A developer comments feature, which allows developers to add comments to an application, a page, or a group of pages.
  • A new search tool designed to enable searches for items, pages, queries, tables, and PL/SQL objects within the pages of an application.
  • Dictionary views that expose metadata for applications, allowing users to write custom documentation, perform ad hoc metadata reporting, and access metadata from within applications.
  • Enhanced debugging, reporting, and user interface features designed to speed user application development and testing times.

Oracle lists several companies now using APEX, including Allianz Insurance Management, Bessemer Trust, and Sumner Technologies. Two of Oracle's own Web-facing applications were developed with APEX: the Oracle Metalink support self-service portal, and Oracle VP and DB guru Tom Kyte's Ask Tom Web site.

Oracle claims that there have been more than 260,000 downloads of APEX since its first release; the company estimates that there are currently about 20,000 regular users of the software.

Oracle Application Express Release 2.2 is available at no charge with Oracle Database 10g and Oracle9i Database Release 2, and as a free download.

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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