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Oracle steps up e-mail offensive

The database giant is looking to win over customers from IBM and Microsoft with the latest version of its Collaboration Suite.

Oracle stepped up its plan to win e-mail customers from IBM and Microsoft with the debut of an upgrade to its collaboration software.

The latest version of Oracle's Collaboration Suite, released Thursday, targets companies looking for lower-cost alternatives to IBM's Lotus Notes and Microsoft's Exchange, according to Oracle executives.

Sunir Kapoor, vice president of Oracle's enterprise messaging and collaboration business, said the company will push the Collaboration Suite at its own customer base of around 200,000 businesses.

The database giant launched its offensive against IBM and Microsoft nearly two years ago, saying that its Collaboration Suite was a more reliable alternative to rival technologies. Since launching the initial version of its e-mail and calendaring software last fall, Oracle has gained 500 corporate clients.

Although the Redwood City, Calif.-based company is a relative upstart in the market for collaboration software, the Collaboration Suite is starting to become a viable alternative for large corporations, Daniel Rasmus, a Forrester analyst, wrote in a recent research note. Oracle has the advantage of a close coupling between its popular database and collaboration applications such as e-mail, calendars and file-sharing applications, Rasmus said.

By using the same database to store e-mail files as well as other corporate data such as financial records, a company can simplify server administration. Microsoft expects to convert the underlying data store of its Exchange e-mail server to its SQL Server relational database by 2006 or 2007. IBM, too, is creating closer ties to its Lotus collaboration products with its DB2 database and WebSphere Portal software.

However, Oracle's collaboration applications still lag behind IBM and Microsoft in terms of maturity, Rasmus said. "Oracle will need to prove itself within its own user community, and it may begin to challenge IBM in integration and collaboration outside the core Oracle customer base, starting in roughly three years as its platform matures."

The second release of Oracle's Collaboration Suite offers the ability to start a Web conference from e-mail. People can either use Microsoft's Outlook or a Web browser to access the collaboration applications. The update also adds the ability create threaded discussions with shared files.

In the first half of next year, Oracle will release the third version of Oracle Collaboration Suite, which will include instant messaging capabilities, Kapoor said. The company will detail the instant messaging features at the company's OracleWorld customer conference in September.

Kapoor said the cost of Oracle's Collaboration Suite--$60 per person including support--is about one-third the price of Lotus Notes and Exchange when software license and administration costs are considered. The collaboration suite includes Oracle's 9i database and the Oracle 9i Application Server. Customers can buy the Web conference capabilities separately for $45 per person.