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Oracle 8 falls short of promises

Oracle will detail features of its long-awaited Oracle 8 database server upgrade in anticipation of a formal launch later this month.

Oracle (ORCL) will detail features of its long-awaited Oracle 8 database server upgrade tomorrow in anticipation of a formal launch slated for June 24.

But the Oracle 8 that will be outlined for reporters and industry analysts in a day-long summit at the company's heaquarters in Redwood Shores, California, is substantially different from the upgrade that was originally planned.

The most celebrated new feature of the database--support for object data types--won't even be complete in the first release of Oracle 8. A Java engine and several other features won't make the initial offering and will ship later this year in a point release. In addition, the company plans to make a portion of the object support an extra-cost option.

Oracle chief Larry Ellison first said that object support was intended for the Oracle 8 release way back in 1992. But the company has gradually and quietly refashioned its object plans as it became clear that mainstream business isn't ready to use the new technology.

Company executives say there has been no drastic change of plans, just an "extension" in Oracle 8's architecture to support the company's Network Computing Architecture (NCA), which consists of additional middle-tier software, development tools, and thin-client support.

However, Oracle's "extension" comes on the heels of a high-profile blunder by competitor Informix Software (IFMX). Earlier this year, Informix posted a huge loss, which CEO Phil White said caused in part by the company's premature effort to move customers to its object-relational Universal Server database and away from core relational technology.

Now, Oracle 8 will focused primarily on the more mundane issues of performance, scalability, and manageability, according to executives.

The database will include features intended to better support both online transaction processing and data warehousing applications. Analysts briefed by the company have given the upgrade high marks.

The upgrade will also improve support for text, video, and audio, as well as bolster support for data access through ActiveX and Java component applications. It will also support CORBA (Common Object Request Broker Architecture), backed by Oracle and Netscape Communications, and Microsoft's DCOM (Distributed Component Object Model).

The database will also be able to store and manage new components, called "business objects," which model business processes in software form.

Oracle is expected to deliver the Java support and other object technology in a follow-on release labeled Oracle 8.1. The company has not announced pricing.

Oracle 8.0 is expected to ship later this month on Windows NT and Sun Solaris, with additional platform support expected later this year.