Oracle unveils collaboration suite

Attempting to grow beyond its traditional boundaries, Oracle Corp. on Wednesday outlined plans to develop a range of offerings from collaboration software and tools to outsourcing and application servers.

Executives used the Analyst Day at Oracle’s headquarters to touch on efforts across all product areas and to launch its latest initiative, the Oracle Collaboration Suite, which is designed to leverage the Oracle database as unified data store.

The package features e-mail, real-time conferencing, voicemail, workflow, and an LDAP directory while Microsoft Corp.’s Outlook serves as the e-mail interface. Other interfaces supported in the suite include a Web browser or voice, wireless, or fax interfaces.

Criticizing Microsoft for promoting the use of what he called fragmented data stores for different applications, Oracle Chairman and CEO Larry Ellison stressed Oracle was providing a single data store for the suite with the Oracle9i database.

Oracle, Ellison said, is solving a problem Microsoft has noted. “Bill [Gates, Microsoft founder] is a genius. We owe it all to him. We did exactly what he said we should do,” Ellison said.

Outlook users will be unaffected by the change in the back-end mail server by switching to Collaboration Suite, Ellison said. “In fact, your users won’t even know there’s a change except for the fact that it will run a little a faster and they’re going to miss all those viruses,” said Ellison. “If we notice a virus in the database, we just delete it once,” rather than having users each delete it, he said.

Oracle’s Collaboration Suite, which is scheduled to ship this calendar year, costs US$60 per named user, plus $5 for support and $10 for an update subscription, which Ellison said was one-third less than Microsoft’s comparable offering for just e-mail and calendaring.

One analyst attending the event, Erik Sprinchorn, equity research analyst at Enskalda Securities in San Francisco, said the collaboration suite was “a big positive.”

“I think it makes a lot of sense from an intuitive end-user perspective,” Sprinchorn said.

Commenting on Ellison’s belittling of Microsoft and IBM Corp., Sprinchorn said these comments should be taken “with a grain of salt.”

“That’s sort of standard Larry litany. It doesn’t change the fact that what they’re offering [with Collaboration Suite] is compelling,” Sprinchorn said.

Ellison, asked if Oracle had concerns about leveraging Microsoft’s Outlook for use in the collaboration offering, said he doubted Microsoft would interfere, given its status as a monopolist involved in a federal lawsuit.

“What they can do with their desktop software is constrained,” Ellison said.

Detailing the vision for the company’s bread-and-butter database platform, company officials touted efforts in areas such as high-end database deployments, in which Oracle will leverage its RAC (Real Application Clusters) in an attempt to take business away from mainframes. Linux dominance also is a goal.

“Our clustering technology will very rapidly make Linux unbreakable and suitable for high-end applications,” said Andy Mendelsohn, Oracle senior vice president of database and app server technology.

Oracle’s application platform, 11i eBusiness Suite, is being fitted with new applications in specific industries, such as warehouse management and asset management. Internet-based collaborative commerce also is being supported, and Oracle also is focusing on smaller, modular applications and business intelligence. Oracle will start rolling out its Daily Business Intelligence offering in a month or so, Ellison said.

“The message here is in addition to improving the capabilities of our existing applications, the footprint of our applications continues to get broader and broader,” said Don Klaiss, senior vice president of manufacturing and supply chain at Oracle.

Ellison said application suites always win out over specialty software applications. He cited CRM giant Siebel as a company that might not survive because it focuses on one application area.

“If you’re a specialty supplier, you can only last so long against a suite supplier,” Ellison said.

Acknowledging the difficult economy facing software, Ellison said Oracle is doing as well as anyone with the exception of perhaps SAP AG, which has a larger installed base.

“People are very cautious with their dollars right now,” Ellison said.

In the tools area, Oracle is focusing on Java, XML, and SQL and on dominating Internet application development.

Application development is becoming more critical as applications migrate back from the client to the server, said Bill Dwight, Oracle vice president of application development.

“Who is the king of Internet development tools? Well, there isn’t one, yet. We’re going to be that king,” Dwight said.

Dwight touted the company’s JDeveloper tool and its ability to access multiple databases. In a slide Dwight presented, Oracle said it would support any standard language, protocol, or API, including XML, HTML, J2EE, and Web services. Absent from this list was Microsoft’s .Net platform, although Oracle did stress support of development on the Windows platform.

“We provide an open alternative to the .Net approach. That makes developers feel more comfortable in not only the servers they develop to but the hardware” as well, Dwight said.

He also criticized rival BEA Systems Inc. “BEA doesn’t really have a tools strategy. That’s a key problem for them,” said Dwight.

But BEA recently released its WebLogic Workshop application development framework for Java, Web services, and XML application development.

In application servers, Oracle believes it is rapidly gaining ground against competitors such as BEA and IBM, and that it is ahead of BEA on total number of transactions being processed, said Thomas Kurian, senior vice president of Oracle9i Application Server.

“Today, Oracle9i Application Server is not only the world’s fastest-growing application but it also offers significant product differentiators going forward,” Kurian said.

More than 1 million people have downloaded the application server, introduced 16 months ago, according to Oracle.