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A day at the intranet, with Oracle

The database company tried to elbow its way in front of Microsoft and Netscape.

MILLBRAE, California--Oracle assembled analysts, journalists, and corporate customers here today to hear its intranet strategy, hoping to outshine competitors Microsoft and Netscape Communications by trumpeting its expertise in the database market.

"Our core competence is managing large amounts of data," said Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle, who focused much of his presentation on how corporations can repurpose client-server applications to run through Web browsers.

For software vendors, having an intranet strategy day has become de rigeur as vendors focus their efforts on the more lucrative and better-equipped corporate, rather than consumer, market. But in most cases, their intranet strategies represent a new spin on the same old Internet products.

Microsoft and Netscape have outlined their strategies for using Internet software within corporate networks, and IBM will do likewise later this week in an ersatz conference call designed to remind people that Big Blue has an intranet strategy too.

One analyst was impressed by Oracle's intranet vision, saying that the company's familiarity with the back end of client server applications is its strong suit. But Oracle's solution, like Microsoft's and Netscape's, will work best when customers stick with one vendor.

"[Oracle's intranet strategy] was crisp, clear, and very appealing to large MIS shops. These people understand databases, not Web servers," said Chip Gliedman, industry analyst at Giga Information Group. "The flip side is you have to buy into Oracle everywhere. If you want a really integrated solution, you have to stick with one company's products."

Still, the company today unveiled its Oracle Web Request Broker middleware, which connects Oracle database servers to third-party Web servers from Netscape and Microsoft, mainframe systems, and applications. The Web Request Broker will be a central component of Oracle's own WebServer 3.0, announced today, which features the ability to plug-in database applications called "cartridges."

The company also shipped its ConText Option and Video Server solution, which add advanced search and indexing and video-streaming capabilities to Web servers. In addition, the company updated its Oracle Enterprise Manager system management tools so that users can keep tabs on all portions of a large-scale Web application from a single site.

To make online transaction-processing applications--such as large-scale airline reservation, credit card processing, and other order-entry applications--a reality, Oracle announced tools to allow secure database updates to be enacted via Web browsers. The company introduced a new version of its Designer/2000 modeling tool that allows companies to generate JavaScript and plug-ins for the Oracle WebServer, allowing them to migrate existing client-server applications to the Web.

Oracle showed a new version of Developer/2000, the company's 4GL development tool, which will be able to publish reports in HTML or Adobe's Portable Document Format for viewing through Web browsers.

Oracle also said it will make its PowerBrowser part of the standard software suite that comes with the company's branded Network Computer, an Internet box. Netscape and Microsoft could also port their browsers to the NC, an Oracle official said. Netscape has said previously that it will create a new version of Navigator for Internet appliances, though Microsoft has remained cagey on the subject.

In his presentation, Ellison reiterated his promise that users will see NCs on the market within the next few months. "By the end of September, we'll have boxes coming out in the range of $300 to $500," he said.

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