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Is Oracle's plan realistic?

While analysts are impressed with Oracle's Internet development, they question whether the company's strategy is overly grandiose.

    Oracle today used the Fall Internet World trade show as a venue for a series of technology announcements that the company hopes will place it out in front in the race to Web-enable business software.

    The company launched into beta testing the Oracle WebServer 3.0 and its e-commerce server software, code-named Project Apollo. The database giant also outlined plans for supporting Sun Microsystems' Java programming language and the network computing architecture that promises to offer cheap consumer hardware for connecting to the Internet by the middle of next year.

    While analysts said today that Oracle has impressed them with the evolution of its Internet development, they questioned whether the company's strategy is overly grandiose.

    "They want to lay out a very big picture and then occupy a very big part of that picture," said Stan Dolberg, an analyst with Forrester Research. Yet the strategy "looks very overreaching," he added. "Oracle has shown a lot of vision about the Web. But it is very narrowly focused vision built around the idea of an Oracle-centric world."

    Dolberg questioned whether the proprietary approach is a turnoff to IS and IT managers, who today appear more interested in acquiring a potpourri of best-of-breed software components than showing loyalty to one software company for the broad array of applications most large corporations deploy.

    "There is a sense with the Web that you should be able to put together a lot of different pieces from different vendors," said Dolberg, yet Oracle's software often leaves companies "physically tied to the Oracle technology."

    The Oracle WebServer is scheduled to ship in the first quarter of 1997. The Web transaction server has a CORBA-IIOP compliant Object Request Broker embedded in it and can deploy a series of cartridges to enhance performance. The WebServer technology can be used to move traditional client-server applications to the Web and as a basis for electronic commerce transactions.

    For instance, Project Apollo, the e-commerce software which Oracle will deliver in first quarter, will come in cartridge form and plug in to the WebServer. The company has signed up a variety of retailers, Internet service providers, and financial and consulting firms to try out the virtual storefront building block.

    However, Dolberg questioned this year's e-commerce buzz. While Oracle has as much or more expertise as the best e-commerce mavens, he said the technology and market are still nascent. "We are still in merchant server kindergarten."

    He also said Oracle has lagged behind rival Informix in nontraditional data. "Informix is very far ahead there."

    Oracle also showed off the Express Web Publisher, an advanced Online Analytical Processing tool for Web publishing. It publishes interactive reports onto the Web and corporate intranets based on database information culled and analyzed by two companion tools, the Express Objects and Express Analyzer. It is scheduled to be released in 90 days and will come free of charge when you buy the Express Objects and Analyzer software.

    On the network computer front, Oracle has been one of the staunchest supporters of the stripped-down computing devices that won't become a reality until next year. Yet the company and several other industry heavy hitters expect the NC boxes, which will cost about $500 apiece, to find an enormous market among consumers looking to get onto the Internet.

    Daryl Plummer, an analyst with the Gartner Group said that while Oracle was not the first company to champion the thin-client device "they certainly are trying to get people to identify Oracle with the network computing architecture."

    Oracle even announced a contest today to inspire independent developers to build additional cartridges for the network computers. Sponsored by the Oracle Developer Programme, the company offers free development kits that can be downloaded from its Web site. The deadline is August 15, and the winner gets two of Oracle's network computers.

    Yet Plummer said too many major players--including IBM, Sun, and Compaq--are also jockeying for prominent positions in this future market for Oracle to maintain a high profile.

    "Oracle will gain a lot of visibility in the short term with these announcements, but they won't be able to sustain it over the long term," he said.