Oracle Targets Developers

Hosts environment that lets software makers create portals online

Oracle corp. is pitching new services to aggressively woo software developers after seeing what company officials said are cracks in Microsoft Corp.s base of 3.2 million developers.

The Redwood Shores, Calif., company will launch this week com, a hosted environment where developers can build portals online for free. Oracle is also adding to its Oracle Technology Network by enabling developers to build "portlets," small slivers of functionality like stock quotes, weather reports, business forecasts and inventory levels.

As competition for developers heats up, theres pressure on vendors to provide more to developers than just information, said Jeremy Burton, Oracles senior vice president of products and services marketing. Vendors must become "developer service providers," Burton said.

The Oracle Technology Networks community of developers has risen from 30,000 two years ago to 1.2 million today, officials said. Burton attributes the growth to the companys decision to give its software to developers rather than charge for it. But Burton said he also believes Microsoft doesnt have the lock on developers it once had because of its slow response to the Internet and the rise of Java.

"Microsoft five years ago was considered unstoppable," Burton said. "We feel their development community is up for grabs for the first time in 10 years."

Users seem to agree. Floyd Jones, an Oracle developer who still uses Microsoft Visual Basic and other tools, said incentives and online support are important. "With products like OTN, it really cuts ... your development time," said Jones, a systems administrator with Weather Channel Enterprises Inc., in Atlanta. He said there are more choices for developers: "Three or four years ago, you only had one or two avenues, with Microsoft being one of them."

Tim Ferrell, lead developer for McGee Corp., in Matthews, N.C., said hes moving from Visual Basic to Java. "The biggest reason is ... I see Microsofts real interest as preserving the status quo," Ferrell said. "The whole attitude they take of locking you into everything Microsoft isnt going to play out."

Microsoft officials are not worried that other companies are eating into the companys developer community. David Mendlen, Microsofts lead product manager for Visual Studio.Net, noted that Oracle is giving its technology away while Microsoft charges developers at most levels to join its network.

Mendlen acknowledged that development has shifted to Web-based applications, which is why Microsoft is building the .Net equivalent of Visual Basic. Microsoft also invests in its community through events and its Microsoft Developer Network site.

"Developers are very religious about their tools, and there was a fear theyd have to change tools [and move away from Visual Basic] because of the Internet," Mendlen said; .Net "stopped that in its tracks."