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Oracle underlies tool architecture

Hoping to convince IS developers that it can provide one-stop shopping for intranet tools, Oracle will detail a plan spanning existing client-server applications and new Web-based systems with a unified product lineup centered on CORBA technologies.

Hoping to convince IS developers that it can provide one-stop shopping for intranet tools, Oracle (ORCL) will detail a plan next Tuesday spanning existing client-server applications and new Web-based systems with a unified product lineup centered on Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) technologies.

Oracle, along with a handful of hardware makers, software providers, and end-user customers, will present the Network Computing Architecture (NCA) a mixed bag of new and existing Oracle software packages designed to bring legacy and client-server applications--Oracle's bread and butter--into the Web age through CORBA-enabled middleware, back-end servers, and client software.

As previously reported by CNET, Oracle will announce across-the-board support for the Internet Inter-ORB Protocol (IIOP), the cross-platform protocol based on CORBA used in Netscape Communications' Netscape Open Network Environment (ONE) development scheme. Netscape, however, will not take part in the announcement on Tuesday, according to Oracle. The company declined to identify third-party participants.

A key component of the NCA will be Oracle's "cartridge" concept of plug-in software. The company has already announced cartridges as a central feature of its WebServer 3.0, due by year's end. Using cartridges, companies can add specific features to the Web server, much like the plug-ins supported by Netscape's Navigator browser.

Oracle will extend the cartridge technology to its database server, desktop, and upcoming Network Computer systems, enabling them to work with CORBA-complaint objects. "The Network Computer is the ideal NCA client," said Mark Jarvis, vice president of server marketing at Oracle.

With CORBA underlying all three tiers--client, Web server, and database server--Jarvis said developers will be able to build Web applications that rival existing client-server systems for transactional integrity and manageability, and make the construction of heavy-duty electronic commerce systems feasible as well.

The combination of CORBA-enabled technologies will guarantee that all pieces of an application speak the same protocol, making database transactions via the Web much more reliable. For instance, using CORBA-compliant applications, companies could build an electronic commerce application links a Web browser to back-end data sources. Since all pieces of technology used to build the application speak CORBA, application development is simpler, data communications are more dependable, and every piece of the system can be managed with a single tool.

CORBA technology has existed for several years. But until now, no major software maker has embraced the technology in its entire product line. "When a company like Oracle gets behind CORBA, that's serious," said Stan Dolberg, an analyst at Forrester Research. "They are the first major vendor to back it."

But Oracle executives said the time has come for a common middleware standard to ease development of Web applications. Analysts such as Dolberg are applauding the move. "We really like the idea of a consolidation in the middleware space. This is CORBA everywhere," he said.

While Jarvis said Oracle will provide a bridge to systems built using Microsoft's ActiveX technology, which uses a cross-platform object framework called Distributed Component Object Model (DCOM) that competes with CORBA, the NCA announcement pits Oracle squarely against Microsoft for control of middleware standards. "DCOM is really green stuff. It's brand new and untested," Dolberg said. "CORBA was conceived in a heterogeneous environment, and its has been around the block. But it's still not mature and the mission it is supposed to complete is so complex."

Oracle will also announce new Web- and CORBA-enabled versions of their development and systems management tools, according to Jarvis. The company is also retrofitting its Developer/2000 toolset for Web development, relabeling it Web Developer/2000, Jarvis added.