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Oracle goes user-friendly route

The database software maker is integrating new ease-of-use features into its Oracle 8i database server .

Oracle thinks it knows at least one of the secrets to Microsoft's success.

The database software maker is stealing a page from archrival Microsoft's playbook by integrating new ease-of-use features into its Oracle 8i database server to minimize the time and expertise needed to install, configure, and manage the software.

Oracle is using the new features, included in a new release of its Enterprise Manager administration tools, as the cornerstone of a strategy to counter Microsoft's SQL Server database, which includes tools that make it relatively easy to set up on Windows NT-based servers.

Microsoft has long had a reputation for making complex software products more user-friendly. The company parlayed its ease-of-use expertise in desktop software into its server-based BackOffice applications. The newest release of SQL Server, version 7.0, includes several new automated management features.

Both Oracle and Microsoft are targeting companies that install database servers in remote locations and field offices where, typically, a full-time database administrator is not on-site.

Oracle today announced Enterprise Manager 2.0, a new release of its systems management software that the company says allows customers to "set and forget" database servers.

The company also announced a new online support service, called Oracle ExpertOnline. The service allows Oracle customers to outsource some of their database administration tasks to Oracle's support personnel.

Enterprise Manager 2.0 includes a Web client component and a Java-based server that Oracle says automatically manage database servers, regardless of location. The tools, according to Oracle, can be used by almost any employee to define performance, security, and other systems-management settings. Java agents are used to communicate set-up parameters to database servers.

The tool also can be configured to manage Oracle's Application Server, Parallel Server, and Replication software.

ExpertOnline lets companies free database administrators from monitoring routine database functions, such as monitoring table space and backup. Two levels of support are available: ExpertDBA is a full-service monitoring and administration package, priced at $90,000 per year. ExpertDetect, priced at $2,000 per month, automatically monitors database health and can warn database administrators of potential problems.

Enterprise Manager 2.0 will ship at no additional charge with Oracle 8i.

As part of Enterprise Manager 2.0, Oracle also announced two new add-on "packs" targeted at smaller businesses.

The Oracle DBA Management Pack lets novice administrators add users, perform backups, add space, and monitor systems. The company also introduced an add-on pack for users of Oracle Standard Edition that is targeted at small businesses.

Oracle 8i, expected to ship by year's end, is the latest version of the company's core database software, and includes several new technologies, including an internal file system--which Oracle calls the "Internet File System"--for storing and managing Web pages as well as word-processing files, spreadsheets, and multimedia data. Also new is a built-in Java virtual machine for execution of Java application code.