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Oracle Net move stalled--but who cares?

Any companies anxious to get their hands on Oracle's much-hyped Internet business applications are out of luck, at least for now. But few seem to care.

Any companies anxious to get their hands on Oracle's much-hyped Internet business applications are out of luck, at least for now. But few seem to care.

The software company will miss its ship date for its 11i applications by roughly six months, said Ron Wohl, Oracle's senior vice president of applications development.

"The reason it's late is because it's a very ambitious release," Wohl said today at the Oracle Applications User Group conference in Orlando, Florida. "It took us a little longer [than expected]."

General availability of 11i, originally slated for November, is not expected until the first quarter of next year, most likely sometime in March. In addition, the company's next-generation customer relationship management (CRM) applications, which will work with 11i and are intended to automate businesses sales, customer service, and marketing needs, won't be generally available until around May 2000, the company said. Early testers of the new 11i interface include NRC and Honeywell, the company said.

To take advantage of new Internet-ready human resources and financial applications, the company's customers must upgrade their databases.

As reported by CNET, not many are racing to do so. In fact, many Oracle customers who have received 8i as part of regular software upgrades say they want it for improved performance and speed but aren't ready yet for the Internet applications.

Joshua Greenbaum, head of Enterprise Applications Consulting in Berkeley, California, credited Oracle for being ahead of the curve with its e-commerce marketing push but agreed that most of the company's some 7,700 customers aren't ready for the upgrade.

"They are very much in the tire-kicking stage," he said. "The customer base is still doing the pilot phase of work. The fact that a given vendor has a product or doesn't have a product is almost immaterial."

That hasn't stopped the product-focused drumbeat among enterprise resource planning (ERP) rivals Oracle and market leader SAP.

SAP, which has 12,000 customers, trumpeted its e-commerce message at its own annual user conference earlier this month. Oracle today said the company is "building momentum against German software maker SAP," which rounded out its Internet strategy earlier this month after admitting that the company had taken a hit from Oracle on the Internet.

Who will dominate in the long term remains a question, but analysts agree that Oracle is ahead at present.

"It's clear Oracle has a considerable lead over SAP," said AMR analyst Rod Johnson. While SAP has more customers and is touting its new e-commerce portal and trading community strategy, the company is late to market with its products and confused analysts with its Internet plans.

"Oracle leads them on vision and execution," Johnson said.

And its customers are willing to wait a few months to get their hands on the new software, said Peggy Menconi, analyst at Boston-based AMR Research.

"In a scope of a corporate lifetime, six months isn't a huge amount of time to wait for a front office that's automatically integrated with the back office," she said. More important to customers is the ability to easily tie so-called back-office business applications that track financials and shipping dates to front-office software that automates sales and customer service.

While Oracle executives told clients that upgrading to 11i would not be difficult, analysts questioned that assessment.

Greenbaum agreed that, from a technological standpoint, upgrades aren't as difficult as they used to be. But he added that few companies can expect a simple transition to the Internet.

"Part of the easy upgrade assumes there's been no customization, which is somewhat mythological," he said. Upgrading also requires changing the database and the company's business process.

In targeting e-commerce, Oracle and SAP will compete with more established players, including Ariba and Commerce One. Alhough these competitors have far fewer customers, analysts argue that the new companies are more innovative.

For the moment, however, Oracle and SAP are reserving their big guns for each other. "This is definitely a battle of the titans," Greenbaum said.