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Oracle urges firms to switch e-mail servers

The database software giant makes its case at the OracleWorld confab, where it prods IT managers to ditch e-mail systems from Microsoft and IBM.

SAN FRANCISCO--Oracle urged thousands of IT managers at its annual conference to ditch Microsoft and IBM e-mail systems in favor of Oracle's Collaboration Suite.

At OracleWorld on Monday, the company announced a new version of the collaboration program, a set of e-mail, calendar, Web conferencing and voice mail tools, set for arrival June 2003. The business software maker released the first version of the product in October. Oracle plans to add instant messaging, online whiteboard and other online applications supporting teamwork to the new release.

Available for under two months, just 50 of Oracle's more than 200,000 customers are testing the collaboration software, company executives said. Even fewer have actually switched on the new system and begun running their e-mail systems on it.

Several Oracle customers at the conference expressed mild interest in the collaboration suite but said they had yet to take a serious look at it.

In launching this product, Oracle is gearing up to give Microsoft a bigger run for its money. Introducing special prices here, Oracle sought to persuade customers of Microsoft Exchange Server version 5.5 to switch to Oracle Collaboration Suite rather than upgrade to Exchange Server 2000, the latest version of Microsoft's e-mail server. Microsoft Exchange is a common server platform atop of which Microsoft Outlook, the desktop e-mail program, runs.

A Microsoft representative declined to comment.

Oracle executives say its collaboration suite product is cheaper and offers better security than Microsoft Exchange Server, which has exposed customers to several major security holes.

"A lot of customers are very upset with Microsoft," said Mark Jarvis, senior vice president of marketing at Oracle, at an analyst and press briefing at the confab.

Jarvis says that companies are disenchanted with Microsoft over recent price increases and impending discontinued support for Exchange Server 5.5. However, Oracle has recently angered customers of its own, with a plan to pull the plug on support for a popular version of its business application software.

Executives at Oracle, which have tried unsuccessfully to crack the collaboration software market in years past, are optimistic that the e-mail server market will be a major new source of revenue for the company in years to come. Sales of the product should eventually equal, if not exceed, sales of Oracle 9i Application Server, Jarvis said.

Oracle 9i Application Server, a complement to the company's database for running e-commerce and other Web site transactions, accounted for 12 percent of the nearly $2 billion market for application server software in 2001, according to analyst firm IDC.

Oracle expects a crowd of 23,000 to gather at Moscone Center from Nov. 10 to Nov. 14 for OracleWorld (formerly known as Oracle OpenWorld). Among the scheduled 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.

Oracle had some notable keynote cancellations. Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy was scheduled to speak Nov. 13, but pulled out. On Thursday, the printed program stated that Michael Capellas would appear on behalf of Hewlett-Packard. He resigned this morning.

Oracle announced also that it has begun shipping a version of Oracle 9i for Intel's Itanium server, an alliance that was announced last December.

Increasingly, Oracle is working with the traditional PC companies as they continue to account for a larger segment of server sales. In addition to Michael Dell, Intel President Paul Otellini is on the OracleWorld keynote line-up. Historically, Oracle databases have run largely on RISC/Unix servers from companies such as Sun.

"We are dealing with performance benefits that are not deniable anymore," Otellini said in an interview. "The economics are there, and you have a choice of hardware and software vendors...The last bastion of the vertical model is the database."

Oracle also plans to release enhanced performance diagnostics and IT asset-tracking tools, called Oracle Enterprise Manager, by March, the company announced. The tools will allow IT managers to assess database performance as experienced by individuals, both inside and outside the firewall.

CNET News.com's Michael Kanellos contributed to this report.