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Oracle to clock more "real time"

At its annual user conference next week, the company plans to discuss revamped versions of its collaboration, database and application server software.

Oracle plans to discuss revamped versions of its collaboration, database and application server software at its annual user conference in San Francisco next week.

Among a number of new developments,

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the business software company will unveil the second release of its Collaboration Suite software, said Rene Bonvanie, vice president of Oracle 9i marketing. Oracle first announced the software, a set of e-mail, calendar, Web conferencing and voice mail tools, in July as an alternative to Microsoft's Exchange e-mail server and IBM's Lotus products. The company released the first version in October.

The second version will have more "real time" communication tools, Bonvanie said. He would not elaborate on exactly what kind of tools that includes. But analysts said new features will allow people in different locations to communicate via text chat, browse Web sites together, edit documents together, and use electronic whiteboards, all online.

The new version will also include tools for setting up protected Web sites to coordinate teamwork. Employees will be able to store and update files, task lists, and project timelines on the sites. The features in the new version will be comparable to those found in Microsoft's NetMeeting product, said Daniel Rasmus, an analyst at Giga Information Group.

Applications for instant online communication are growing more popular in the business world. America Online this week released a corporate version of its popular instant messenger. Yahoo launched a corporate messaging application last month, and Microsoft is working on software, code-named Greenwich, designed for internal corporate messaging. IBM already sells a business IM product called Sametime. But instant messaging isn't one of the features Oracle is adding to the next release of its collaboration suite, Rasmus said.

For Oracle, which has tried unsuccessfully to crack the collaboration software market in years past, it is more important to show that there is demand for the new product rather than a long list of features, said IDC analyst Mark Levitt.

"Oracle needs to demonstrate early customers that will speak about how wonderful the product has treated them so far for being a plug-and-play replacement for Microsoft Exchange server," Levitt said.

Oracle expects a crowd of 20,000 at OracleWorld (formerly known as Oracle OpenWorld), being held Nov. 10 to 14. Among the keynote speakers are Carly Fiorina, chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, and Michael Dell, chief executive of Dell Computer. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison will deliver his keynote via satellite from New Zealand, where he's competing in the America's Cup sailing race.

At the conference, the company will also discuss plans to expand data integration features in its application server software, which is designed to complement the company's database for running e-commerce and other Web site transactions. Oracle is an underdog in that $2 billion market, trailing IBM and BEA Systems in market share. Data integration is the holy grail for IT managers, enabling companies to link disparate business applications and share information among incompatible computer systems.

In addition, Oracle will soon release enhanced performance diagnostics and IT asset-tracking tools called Enterprise Manager, Bonvanie said. The tools will allow IT managers to assess database performance as experienced by individuals, both inside and outside the firewall.

The company will also showcase a growing number of its customers running Oracle products on the Linux operating system, Bonvanie said. Oracle, ever aspiring to be the nemesis of Microsoft, has heavily promoted Linux as an alternative to Windows for servers.

The future direction of the company's database software will also be up for discussion, Bonvanie said. Specifically, the company will preview advances in its clustering capability, which allows businesses to harness multiple servers to run a very large database, so servers can share work or take over from one other if one fails. Oracle is working to make clustering less costly and more reliable, Bonvanie said.

Long the leading seller of database software, Oracle has recently ceded market share to competitors, according to numerous reports.

But Bonvanie doesn't see the market as static.

"We think the database business is not a stale business," Bonvanie said. "The market for databases is not commoditizing at all, but prone to lots of innovation."