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Oracle's about-face on data access spec

Oracle, the largest maker of database software, has for years shunned OLE DB, a data access specification from rival Microsoft, in favor of its own technology--until recently.

Oracle and Microsoft, which disagree on most everything, have finally found common ground in an unexpected place.

Oracle, the largest maker of database software, has for years shunned OLE DB, a data access specification from rival Microsoft, in favor of its own technology.

But, apparently, times have changed. Oracle last month quietly inked a three-year, multi-million dollar deal with ISG Software to license software based on OLE DB that will become a key part of its flagship Oracle 8i server. The companies did not disclose the exact terms of the deal. The product will in essence become Oracle 8i's link to the outside world.

The product, ISG Navigator, is a bundle of software that's used to link dissimilar applications, databases, and other data sources. ISG was one of the first companies to endorse OLE DB, a universal data access specification, several years ago.

Oracle will ship a version of ISG Navigator, which will be integrated with Oracle's Transparent Enterprise Gateway, according to ISG. Oracle 8i will also include an evaluation copy of the full ISG Transparent Enterprise Gateway.

When OLE DB was introduced, Microsoft said it had been embraced by every major database software maker--except Oracle.

The company said it planned on supplying support in its tools for OLE DB and that it would ship an OLE DB driver to its database server. But, Oracle officials said that OLE DB was too generic to support the more interesting features of its database server software, and therefore would not invest any additional time in OLE DB support.

According to an Oracle statement issued at the time, "OLE DB will always be slower than a native interface, because it provides an additional layer on top of the database which is never equal to accessing the database directly. Finally, it will lock users into the Windows environment."

Oracle's Internet plans, announced after it vetoed OLE DB use, seem to have changed that stance. Since it's virtually impossible to provide native drivers to all data sources, Oracle seems to have relented. But the company denies any change of mind on OLE DB.

"Our thinking has not changed on OLE DB," said Dom Lindars, director of server marketing at Oracle. He said the fact that ISG Navigator is based on OLE DB is a coincidence. "OLE DB is not crucial--it's what ISG Navigator can do. Now if customers want an OLE DB technology, we have it. The deal was not based on desire to get our hands on good OLE DB technology--that was a factor, but not what drove the deal," said Lindars.

Barry Goffe, a Microsoft product manager, said the company is "gratified by Oracle's adoption of OLE DB."

Avoiding Microsoft
Oracle has gone out of its way in the past to avoid using or endorsing any Microsoft technology unless absolutely necessary. The companies compete in the database server business, where Microsoft has proven to be a threat to Oracle in the low end of the market.

Oracle went so far as to license an operating system kernel for its Oracle 8i-based Internet appliance server, code-named Raw Iron, to lessen dependence on Microsoft's Windows NT. Oracle has also built its own file system instead of using NT's file system. And earlier this year, the company said it was building the Oracle Internet Directory, a directory service to be integrated into Oracle 8i that will be an alternative to Microsoft's Active Directory technology.

Oracle claims that the database, which also includes built-in development tools, may be all companies need to deploy business applications accessible via the Internet using a standard Web browser.

That's in stark contrast to the thick-client, code-heavy client/server applications of the past that required long development cycles and lots of maintenance. And, the 8i model also does away with the need for at least some of Oracle's middleware, since proprietary communications software between client-and-server systems is unnecessary using a Web client.

Lindars said Oracle will integrate ISG Navigator with Oracle 8i by the end of the year as part a maintenance release of the database.