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Oracle needs HatTrick help

Oracle needs a spreadsheet for its Java productivity applets, code-named HatTrick. But just where it will come from is still a matter of debate.

Oracle (ORCL) needs a spreadsheet for its Java productivity applets, code-named HatTrick, and is likely to license one from a third party, the company acknowledged today. But just which third party will supply that spreadsheet is still a matter of debate.

Reports last week that Oracle was to license Java technology from Lotus Development made Oracle issue a rebuttal. Despite the rebuttal, which denied that the company would make any Lotus-related announcements at Oracle's OpenWorld conference in Tokyo this week, representatives from both companies admitted today that discussions between the two have taken place. Both sides shied away from disclosing specifics, though.

Oracle, like other software makers, is attempting to roll out a suite of Java productivity applications. While Corel and Lotus press ahead with their multifeatured Java application suites--Office for Java and Kona, respectively--Oracle has scaled back its own modest plans.

The initial version of HatTrick, due for inclusion in InterOffice 4.1 in June, will have presentation graphics, email, and a word processor integrated into one application but no spreadsheet, as the company first envisioned.

"We're unlikely to develop the spreadsheet internally and will likely have to license it from a third party," senior director of InterOffice product marketing Steve d'Alen?on said through a representative.

There is no timetable to integrate spreadsheet functionality into HatTrick, although the company said it would be included in a "future version."

Whether that spreadsheet comes from Lotus remains to be seen. "What's happening in negotiations right now is something we can't talk about," said Lotus public relations manager Adam Banker.

Lotus, a subsidiary of IBM, has not announced any licensing strategies for its Kona technology but is considering several options. One option is to offer its Kona applets as building blocks that developers can mix and match to create custom intranet or Internet applications. Another possibility is selling or licensing the discrete applets--which include presentation graphics, spreadsheet, word processor, chart, and email--to end users.

The company is also developing a user interface called the Kona Desktop, a client-side work environment that runs on a network computer. Oracle is a prime mover in the push toward NCs.

The desktop will run Java applets, not just Kona applets, but will not feature the same security "sandbox" that Web browsers currently use to prevent Java applications from accessing system resources or files.

The Kona Desktop will rely on certification and signing of executable code for security, much like the system ActiveX uses to warn users about its downloadable controls. Before the application is downloaded, the user will see a message stating who signed the applet--in other words, the party responsible for the applet's functionality.

If the user doesn't trust the responsible party, he or she can abort the download. The danger with this approach is that users will ignore the message and simply click to accept. With NCs, however, network administrators will have more say on security than users, according to Lotus managers.

"At the end of the day, it's up to the system administrator to determine policy," said Cary Alexandre, Kona Desktop senior product manager. "For better or worse, NCs can be a more controlled environment. System administrators may be really draconian or really lax, and they can always override a user's configurations."

Lotus hopes to deploy the Kona Desktop on old 286 and 386 PCs as well, but has no plans to push it on more current systems.

"To try and replace Netscape Communicator or Windows at this point would be ridiculous," said Alexandre.