Oracles Dwight Champions HTML DB

Development tools official says hosted environment will be good for workgroup users.

Oracle Corp.s new HTML DB software, formerly code-named Project Marvel, will give developers a hosted environment in which to develop applications for the Redwood Shores, Calif., companys namesake database. Some Oracle users will get their first look at the technology at the OracleWorld show in San Francisco this week. Bill Dwight, vice president of application development tools at Oracle, engaged in an interview conducted by e-mail with eWEEK Senior Writer Lisa Vaas to describe HTML DB.

Could you give your quick take on why this technology is exciting for Oracle? The feedback Ive gotten is that its Oracles foray into the midmarket, offering smaller businesses an easy-to-use online development tool for databases. Is that accurate?

The sweet spot for HTML DB is for building applications that are often labeled as "tactical" or "opportunistic". Quick little applications that are often built very swiftly by one or a handful of developers. These "developers" are often just power users at the departmental or workgroup level that have a full time job other than programming. These power users cannot afford to spend a lot of time wrestling with complex technologies or deployment issues.

The target end users of such tactical applications are often at the workgroup level, but not necessarily. Many times these tactical applications need to be rolled out across the enterprise and HTML DB supports that gracefully.

The core market for HTML DB could be labeled as "workgroup information management". The state of the art for workgroup information management today is some collection of [Microsoft Corp.s] Excel, Access, and SQL Server. Power users and developers like the personal control and ease of use of these products. They dont like the fact that these products do not deploy well on the Web and they dont scale up to handle multi-user updates to data gracefully.

IT departments dislike such products because they end up with fragmented installations and data all over the company. In addition, these products lack the manageability, scalability, reliability, security and other enterprise features that IT folks value so much.

HTML DB is very exciting for Oracle and our customers because it combines the qualities of a personal database (that developers and power users love) with the qualities of an enterprise database (that the IT folks love) and it is all built natively for the Web. In a typical scenario, an IT department will install it and roll it out as a shared service to all its constituent workgroups. The service can be trivially accessed via a browser with no installation required on the desktop of the developer or the end user.

How else does HTML DB fit into Oracles product strategy, particularly regarding the midmarket?

HTML DB complements our existing application development tools nicely since our other tools concentrate on the needs of professional developers building more strategic, long-lived applications using technologies like J2EE and Web Services.

Some people say that hosted tools are uncharted territory—that they open up security concerns, concerns about mixing customers data up, and even that developers dont want to have to be connected to the Internet to work. Whats your response to those concerns?

There are certainly some valid concerns in the hosted Internet tools area. Thats why it turns out that 99 percent of HTML DB installations will be behind a corporate firewall. The most typical scenario is an internal IT department that is hosting the service on behalf of its internal constituents, so the Internet level hosting concerns dont really apply here.

Furthermore, in cases where the data for an application needs to be kept in a separate database for whatever appropriate reason, a separate instance of HTML DB can always be set up to support that application. We do this sometimes within Oracle today.

Whats the attraction of HTML DB as opposed to, say, Oracle Portal or other development environments?

Oracle Portal is focused on building Web portals and aggregating information from lots of different applications and information sources. HTML DB is focused on building individual applications themselves. Oracle Portal portlets can easily be built that point end users to HTML DB applications (or any other application for that matter). The relationship with respect to our other development tools is mentioned above.

What applications have Oracle developed internally using HTML DB?

Hundreds of applications have been deployed within Oracle to date and the number is growing exponentially. Some, like a customer analysis application built in one of our sales divisions and our quick employee lookup application, are rolled out company-wide. Many more are for a whole variety of tactical business and development initiatives at the divisional and workgroup level.

Product managers build applications to manage beta programs, conduct surveys, track product initiatives, etc. Engineering managers build custom applications to monitor and track our product releases, bug trends, etc. I built an application to collect and analyze performance rating information from my managers for people in our division. Sales managers have built applications for tracking RFPs, reference customers, partners, etc. The list is endless.