Oracle releases free database

Oracle Corp. plans to launch a free version of its database by the end of the year in a move to compete more effectively at the low end of the market.

Oracle has released a beta version of the product, called Oracle Database 10g Express Edition, for 32-bit Windows and Linux systems. The software can be downloaded free for development and limited production use. It can also be distributed free with third-party products from ISVs (independent software vendors), Oracle said.

David Rumer, senior director of marketing for Oracle Canada in Mississauga, Ont. said the vendor intends to attract new users to its database tools by offering them a free “starter database” for development and deployment purposes. “This fits in Oracle’s strategy of allowing customers…to start at a level where they feel comfortable, and move seamlessly within their own organization. This is geared towards developers and database administrators who need a free startup database,” Rumer said.

Along with developers, Oracle wants to attract more ISVs, educators and students.

Production use comes with restrictions. The database is limited to use with 4G bytes of data and 1G byte of RAM and can be used on only one processor per server. The same conditions apply for use by ISVs. Support is offered by way of an online forum for users, Rumer said.

The free database tool, Rumer said, is built on the same code base as Oracle’s existing 10g databases but with some options removed – applications will run unchanged on Oracle’s higher-end databases. The company hopes users will try out the free version and then upgrade to a paid Oracle product if their data management needs outgrow its capacity, he added.

Oracle plans to ship the final version of the database by year’s end, he said. Oracle leads the relational database market with its main rival, IBM Corp. But Microsoft Corp.’s SQL Server has been gaining ground quickly, according to analysts, and momentum is also building behind open-source products from MySQL AB and others.

Oracle released the free product to attract new developers and to shore up its business in “the low-end corporate database market,” particularly against Microsoft, according to Donald Feinberg, a vice-president and distinguished analyst with Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc.

Microsoft recently released its SQL Server 2005 upgrade, he noted. The 2005 family includes a low-end database called SQL Server Express that, like Oracle’s 10g Express, is free for limited production use. Oracle now has an alternative for customers considering SQL Server Express, Feinberg said.

The product could also help fend off a potential challenge from MySQL. The company is not a big threat to Oracle today but its software improves with each new release, said Andy Hayler, founder and chief strategist with Kalido, which makes data warehousing and master data management products for Oracle and other databases.

Earlier this month, MySQL released an upgrade that adds several important features for enterprise use, including triggers, views and stored procedures, and said it hopes to earn a bigger slice of the enterprise market.

“Oracle is starting to get troubled by MySQL,” Hayler said. “In a way it has been for some time, it’s just been in denial.”

One big difference is that MySQL’s source code is freely available, he noted, while Oracle’s is not. That’s an advantage for MySQL, according to Hayler, because developers like to be able to submit bugs to mailing lists and know that others can work on the problem and post a fix.

Feinberg was less convinced: Few turn to MySQL because the source code is available, he said. “The true open-source community for MySQL is pretty small. It’s not like Linux,” he said. More significant, according to Feinberg, is that MySQL’s database comes with no deployment restrictions.

Oracle’s free database may be another step to create FUD — or fear, uncertainty and doubt — in the minds of potential MySQL customers, Feinberg and Hayler said.

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