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Oracle renews battle with Lotus, Exchange

The company's new Collaboration Suite lets businesses manage e-mail, voice mail and scheduling, as well as hold Web-based meetings and allow employees to sync data.

Oracle is taking on Microsoft and IBM with new e-mail, calendar and messaging software.

The company's Collaboration Suite software, due to ship next week, lets businesses manage e-mail, voice mail and scheduling, as well as hold Web-based meetings and allow employees to sync their information to wireless handheld devices. It includes software, called Oracle Files, for managing different kinds of content, including audio, video, e-mail and Microsoft Word documents.

Oracle's software is the latest entry in the billion-dollar collaboration software market that is dominated by IBM's Lotus products and Microsoft's Exchange e-mail server software.

In 2001, IBM led the $1.6 billion market with a 49 percent share of revenue, followed by Microsoft with 39 percent and Novell with 6 percent, according to market researcher IDC. Microsoft, however, ranked first in the number of customers. Of 210 million users worldwide last year, Microsoft captured 40 percent, followed by IBM with 35 percent and Novell with 16 percent.

Steven Levine, Oracle's marketing vice president for the Collaboration Suite, predicts the company can gain market share by selling the product to Oracle's database customers, as well as to Microsoft and IBM customers. IBM shipped new Lotus software this week, while Microsoft plans new Exchange software in mid-2003.

Levine said Oracle's product is less expensive and more secure than software from its rivals. Collaboration Suite can be licensed in two ways: For a one-time fee of $60 per user, or for $10 per-user, per-month on a hosted basis, said Rene Bonvanie, the vice president in charge of platform marketing at Oracle.

Bonvanie added that Oracle has already sold the product to several large customers, including Fujitsu Siemens, Wachovia Bank, and Cisco Systems.

Analysts, however, say it's too soon to know whether Oracle can grab a sizable share of the market. A lot depends on the product's quality, said IDC analyst Mark Levitt.

"It comes down to this: Oracle needs to demonstrate and convince several large customers what they are saying is true, and what they promise is fact," Levitt said.

Oracle's push into e-mail and collaboration software is not entirely new, but this is the first time the company has sold a separate product for collaboration. Also, it's the first time that Oracle has ventured into the online calendaring area.

At the Comdex trade show last November, Oracle offered its 9i database and application-server software as a more reliable and secure alternative to Microsoft Exchange to house e-mail.

Oracle's Levine added that the Collaboration Suite is not a typical first release of a product because it combines new and previously released Oracle technology. The collaboration software includes technology from a recent acquisition of Steltor, which builds software that lets employees manage their calendars.

The Oracle Files software stems from the previously released Internet File System used for storing and managing different kinds of data, Levine said. The Internet File System was originally positioned as a replacement to the Windows File System that is built into Microsoft's operating system.

Oracle's collaboration software lets current Microsoft customers continue to use the Outlook e-mail software on their PCs, while storing that data on Oracle servers, Levine added. It also provides for unified messaging, which lets people check their e-mail, voice mail and faxes from a PC, phone or other device.

The Collaboration Suite runs on Oracle's 9i database and application server. Levine said that future versions will have tighter integration with Oracle's 11i eBusiness Suite, software that automates a company's financial, human resources, customer service and manufacturing operations.

Oracle's product currently runs on Solaris, HP-UX and Linux operating systems. Within a month, the product will run on Windows, Tru64 and AIX. Levine said Oracle also plans to offer the product as a hosted service.