New APEX Release From Oracle

Oracle Corp. released version 3.0 of its free, browser-based application development tool, Application Express ( (APEX). The release comes with new design, migration, reporting, security and Web services capabilities.

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

"The IT guys aren't always available to build every piece of software that people want or need," Hichwa explains. "Say you're in the sales department. If you have some skills -- you don't have to be a programmer -- you can use this tool to create some nice screens that show your top ten opportunities, or top customers, or whatever. If you're in the engineering department, you might want to know your bug-fix rate, details of the release schedule, or upcoming events. You can use Application Express to build tracking apps that are highly tuned to the needs of your department."

APEX 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."

This is the fifth release since the company first bundled the tool with Oracle 10g in February 2004. Oracle claims that there have been more than 300,000 downloads of the product in the past three years.

"Sometimes technology gravitates toward whatever is easiest and most practical," Hichwa says. "Business people in particular are all about doing things that require the least amount of effort and yield the greatest benefit. So it's not surprising that a certain segment of the Oracle user community is really gravitating toward this tool. It's the ease of use of Oracle Forms or Microsoft Access, but with the power of the Oracle database on the Web."

This version introduces five new capabilities that have generated considerable buzz:

  • PDF Printing: Allows the developer to export a report region to PDF in addition to Word, Excel and HTML.
  • Flash Charts: Users can now incorporate interactive Flash charts into their dynamic Web applications. "We find Flash to be a faster, cleaner and slicker technology for rendering charts," says Hichwa.
  • Microsoft Access Application Migration Workshop: This feature allows developers to recover the design of Access applications to generate Oracle Application Express applications. "We see departments that at one time needed to do something, and so they did it in Access because it was the only tool they had," Hichwa says. "And it worked, so people began adding to it, and it grew over the years until it simply became too difficult to redevelop it. These are applications that are every bit as sophisticated as Java or .NET."
  • Drag and Drop Item Layout: Allows users to reorder items, change select attributes, and quickly add and delete items.
  • Improved Web Services Support: This version comes with enhanced support for document-style Web services, such as those produced by the Oracle JDeveloper IDE, and Oracle BPEL Process Manager-produced processes.

APEX 3.0 also supports Oracle Application Express packaged applications, which are available for free download on the Oracle Technology Network. The package includes fully functional apps such as Ask the Expert, Bug Tracker, Discussion Forum, Document Library, Issue Tracker, People Search, Online Store and Software Projects. These are simple, easy-to-use apps designed to be customized with little programming experience, deployed and shared within an organization.

APEX is integrated with all editions of Oracle's Database 10g and Oracle9i Database Release 2. The 3.0 version is available now and downloadable for Oracle customers from the Oracle Technology Network.

About the Author

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