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Oracle portal plan comes in pieces

Oracle plans to introduce technology for building corporate Web portals sites using Java-based standard components.

Oracle is hoping to cash-in on the portal craze.

The software firm today plans to propose a standard format for building software elements that can be combined to form a single view of corporate information.

Separately, as first reported by CNET, Oracle also plans to launch new software integration tools to link back-end applications and data sources to corporate portals.

Oracle calls the new software elements "portlets" and is crafting a standard application programming interface for building the elements using most Java-based development tools, said Jeremy Burton, a vice president at Oracle. The portlets can then be stitched together using an Oracle tool called WebDB.

Oracle won't propose the portlet framework as a formal standard. Instead the company plans to promote the technology through its developer network and third-party content providers.

The new software integration tools, to be announced in three weeks, are part of a bigger strategy to provide so-called enterprise application integration (EAI) software used to link legacy systems, client/server, and Web-based applications, as well as popular enterprise resource planning (ERP) and database applications from Oracle and other software manufacturers.

Oracle is wading in an area that is poised to explode, analysts said, driven by the influence of the Internet on corporate applications. Companies are pouring millions of dollars into trying to integrate software that was never meant to communicate with other systems. In turn, the integration software market is mushrooming, mostly to keep up with demand for tools that simplify the process of linking backend systems to new e-commerce applications.

Goldman, Sachs estimates the size of the EAI market at about $300 million. But the market is expected to grow at a more than 110 percent compounded annual rate, to reach a whopping $5 billion by 2002, according to the firm. Other estimates from the Yankee Group peg the market at just more than $800 million, growing to more than $1 billion by 2001.

Oracle intends to make EAI software part of the "stack" of technology, including database software, development tools, and business applications, that it sells to large corporations, said a source familiar with the company's plans.

The EAI tools will also complement the portlet strategy by allowing business developers to build information portals that link to a wide variety of data sources.

Burton said many large companies have crafted internal information portals on their corporate intranets. But most companies have no standard method for building the components that make up those portals. A standard format would enable corporate technology users to quickly build and reconfigure portals as needs change, Burton said.

Other software companies are attempting to woo the same audience: Microsoft is busy promoting its knowledge management initiative and tools; Lotus, which sells Domino and Notes, is courting information users within big companies; and SAP, which sells enterprise resource planning software, has spent considerable effort promoting its MySAP portal efforts.

Oracle, like Microsoft, is spending considerable time and marketing dollars to attract corporate developers to its software. Since portlets work with Oracle's tools and applications, their widespread adoption as a standard component could boost Oracle's database and business software application sales.

Burton said the company also plans to add portlets to release 11i of its Oracle Applications software, expected to debut in the middle of next year. That release will include several ready-made portal templates.

A portlet software development kit will be posted to Oracle's Technology Network Web site in November, Burton said.