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Oracle upgrade starts beta

After years of talk, Oracle is finally beta testing its next major database release, Oracle8.

After more than two years of marketing hype, Oracle announced its next major database release has entered beta testing.

The main feature of the new database, Oracle8, is its ability to integrate relational and object data. Oracle's main competitors, Informix Software and Sybase, have similar projects in the works that are set to debut later this year.

Oracle officials, most notably CEO Larry Ellison, have in the past touted the upgrade as one of the company's most important releases to date, and key to allowing corporate developers to build cutting-edge, object-based applications.

But with the release earlier this year of Oracle version 7.3, the current version of the database server, Oracle began backpedaling to downplay Oracle 8's significance. The company labeled version 7.3 "Universal Server" and introduced bolt-on support for text, video, spatial, and Web data, features originally planned for Oracle 8.

"Oracle's original concept with Oracle 8.0 was to rebuild the database kernel. But they have taken a much more evolutionary path. It's not the bolt-on mess that 7.3 is, but it's not as modular as Informix's database server," said Stan Dolberg, an analyst with Forrester Research.

Informix will ship a database upgrade also called Universal Server late this year, which will allow users to plug data support modules called DataBlades into the database server to add support for additional data types. Oracle's support is hard-coded into the database and is not as easy to modify, said Dolberg.

"Now [Oracle] is trying to do what Informix is already doing with its database. But Oracle does not have the architecture to be modularized like Informix," he said.

"The big thing that buyers need to be aware of is that Oracle did not advance the ball on operability and integration of different data types. Informix has with its Universal Server. With the Internet and the explosion of complex data types, people should be interested in databases that can be easily adapted to handle different data types," said Dolberg.

Sybase has scaled back plans to support object data types in the next version of its SQL Server database, due mainly to financial setbacks that have forced the company to refocus its efforts onto its most profitable areas. Sybase is touting an architecture called the Adaptive Server, set to debut later this year, which will pair SQL Server's relational data handling with products from third parties to support text, video, and object data.

Oracle has not set a release date for the new database, but the company will give details on the product at its Oracle OpenWorld conference in San Francisco in November.

The company also continues work on its object-oriented development environment, code-named Sedona. Sedona is a set of programming tools for developers based on object-oriented technology. The toolset is being released in stages; the first components of Sedona entered beta testing earlier this year.

Oracle also announced today that its current database product, Oracle release 7.3, is now available on over 80 hardware platforms.

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