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Oracle "optimistic" about market

The software giant echoes the view that the slow economy is perking up--and believes that the company can capture more market share from rival database and e-business software makers.

Oracle executives painted a rosy future for the database giant Wednesday, despite the rocky economic climate.

At a financial analysts' meeting at company headquarters, Oracle executives restated their view that the slow economy is perking up--and reiterated their belief that the company can capture more market share against rival database and e-business software makers.

"We are optimistic. We see signs that things are stabilizing. Our sense is the economy has bottomed and started to pick up a bit," said Oracle Chief Financial Officer Jeff Henley.

But Henley hedged in his prediction that the economy is on the upswing. "We could be dead wrong," he said.

The financial analysts' meeting follows Oracle's recent announcement of a profitable fourth quarter but slightly lower revenue when compared with a year ago. Oracle Chief Executive Larry Ellison said in a press conference Tuesday that sales in the current first quarter are much stronger than in past quarters.

At the analyst event Wednesday, Henley repeated that Oracle expects first-quarter earnings of 8 cents per share with revenue growing 1 percent to 2 percent. The company expects flat database sales, while applications sales will grow 15 percent, he said.

"We're hoping to beat the numbers a bit, but not wildly," Henley said of the current quarter.

Oracle executives, including Ellison, took turns Wednesday touting its business software as all-in-one packages for their customers' needs.

Oracle recently released its Oracle 9i database software--used by businesses and Web sites to store, manage and retrieve fast amounts of data--and its Oracle 9i application server, software that allows businesses to handle e-commerce and other Web site transactions.

In the past year, Oracle has consolidated its software family, combining separate products into one. For example, Oracle has built its data-analysis tools into its database and application server.

"I feel really good about our database and application server positioning," Ellison said at the analysts' meeting. "I think we will continue to accelerate our growth and market share gains in the database market and be a real annoyance in the application server business," he said.

To pump up sales of databases and application servers, Oracle this month shipped its new 9i database and application server software, and announced a new pricing plan to be more competitive with its rivals. In the database market, for example, Oracle faces stiff competition from IBM and Microsoft, which have sold its database at a cheaper price.

"We have just taken price as an issue off the table," said George Roberts, Oracle's executive vice president of North American sales.

Oracle, which ranks first in database market share, is touting the 9i database as faster, better performing, more secure and easier to manage than previous versions.

Oracle competes against BEA Systems, IBM, Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard in the market for application servers. In the $1.6 billion application server market, BEA ranks first with 35 percent market share, followed by IBM with 30 percent.

Oracle also competes against the companies such as SAP, Siebel Systems and PeopleSoft with its 11i e-business suite, an all-in-one software package that companies use to manage everything from sales and marketing to finances and human resources. Businesses can buy the full suite or in pieces, Oracle executives added.

In other news, Henley was asked during a question-and-answer period if he has plans to leave Oracle anytime soon. "I'm not getting younger, but I don't have any plans to leave," he said. "As long as I'm having fun, I have no plans to leave."