Oracle debuts secure XE database

Oracle Corp. made its low-end, free-of-charge Oracle Database 10g Express Edition database, also known as XE, generally available Tuesday. When the company initially released the beta version of the software in October of last year, Oracle expected to debut the first full release of XE by year-end.

Oracle chose to delay the product until the end of February in order to add additional unspecified security features to the database, according to Mark Townsend, senior director, product management with the company’s server technologies division. “We’ve made sure the database is extremely secure,” he said in a recent phone interview.

The database vendor has retained the same restrictions on XE that it announced back in October, Townsend said. The restrictions apply to storage — 4 gigabytes of memory, 1 gigabyte of random access memory (RAM) and only using one central processing unit (CPU) per host server. “We have no plans at this point to open source XE,” he added.

The XE database supports 32-bit Windows and Linux distributions from market leaders Red Hat Inc. and Novell Inc. It runs on both Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 and Red Hat Fedora and both Suse Linux Enterprise Server 9 and Suse Linux 10, according to Monica Kumar, director of product marketing with Oracle. The database also supports Linux distributions popular among developers, she said — Mandriva Linux 2006 Power Pack+, Debian and Ubuntu.

Additionally, XE supports development environments including Java, .Net and PHP. Townsend also pointed to Application Express, which is built into the XE database, and is another development environment for creating and deploying Web-based applications.

XE is built on the same code as the company’s enterprise-level Oracle Database 10g Release 2. Oracle expects that users who adopt the free edition of XE will later want to upgrade to paid versions of the 10g database. The vendor is also hoping that the XE database will appeal to both developers and the academic community.

Rajeev Kaula, a professor in the computer information systems department of Missouri State University, is using XE to teach database application development classes involving SQL (structured query language) and Oracle’s extension to SQL — PL/SQL (procedural language for SQL).

“XE, to me, is like a breath of fresh air,” Kaula said in a phone interview Monday. “It’s so quick and very easy to download.”

Previously, his students were downloading the enterprise release of 10g and seemed to run into a lot of problems. “The word of mouth spread that Oracle was very difficult to install,” Kaula said, diminishing other students’ enthusiasm for downloading the database. With XE, those issues have gone away. “XE was the main driver to offer my course as an online course,” Kaula said.

The professor described XE as a much neater application than some of Oracle’s previous attempts at small footprint databases including Personal Edition and Oracle Lite. Having a free of charge low-end database is certainly important to his students, Kaula said, The students are used to open-source software and so are always expecting free applications. “If it’s free, they’re more likely to try it out and experiment [with it],” he added.

Kaula doesn’t see the database’s restrictions as posing an issue for his students, describing the 4 gigabytes of storage as “more than adequate.”

acle is also positioning XE as an alternative for users who’ve typically stored data in Microsoft Corp. Excel spreadsheets, according to Townsend. Some of the documentation and examples that come with XE are targeted at people without a strong background in databases, he said.

There’s a plethora of low-end free databases in today’s market, with Oracle’s XE and Microsoft’s SQL Server 2005 Express being joined last month by IBM Corp.’s DB2 Universal Database Express-C. All three vendors are also facing challenges from the open-source community led by database company MySQL AB.

The XE database can be downloaded from Oracle Technology Network at this Web site.

In a related announcement, PHP specialist Zend Technologies Inc. Tuesday announced an updated release of Zend Core for Oracle. The update is certified for Oracle’s XE database and features enhanced PL/SQL support. Since Zend debuted Zend Core for Oracle in October, more than 5,000 developers are using the software, according to a company release. Zend Core for Oracle can be downloaded free of charge from Zend’s Web site.

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