Oracle 10G Collaboration Suite Finding Its Niche

As Oracle prepares to launch the long-delayed update to its Collaboration Suite, early testers say that the package could find a strong support base in a market dominated by IBM Lotus and Microsoft.

As Oracle Corp. prepares to launch the long-delayed update to its Collaboration Suite, early testers of the 10g version say that the package could find a strong support base in a market still dominated by IBM Lotus Software and Microsoft Corp.

The suite, set to launch at months end, includes new content management capabilities, instant messaging, voice capabilities, wireless push e-mail for mobile phones, wireless calendar synchronization and a new Web-based e-mail client. Oracle first said the upgraded suite would launch last year but has delayed the release until now.

David Gibson, director of project management, office of information services at Abilene Christian University, in Texas, said the university was forced to shelve an early version of Oracle Collaboration Suite after battling installation problems and daunting hardware requirements caused by a flurry of early product upgrades. But the university has decided to give the suite another shot after hearing about some of the improvements Oracle made to its latest version.

"We [installed] the Oracle Calendar for Release 2, and it took under a day. Last time I bet we spent 400 to 500 man-hours and never pulled it off for calendar and e-mail," Gibson said.

Gibson noted, however, that one of the universitys initial problems was that they were caught off guard when they discovered that the tool used a proprietary data store from calendaring vendor Steltor, a Canadian software company Oracle acquired in 2002. "We made some assumptions back then that if we were handed an Oracle product that it would all live and breathe on top of Oracle databases, and it wasnt like that," said Gibson.

Oracle has not changed that in the 10g suite, but a source close to Oracle said the company has plans to address the issue in its next major revision.

One of the reasons ACU decided to give Oracles calendar another try is the tools enhanced connector for Microsoft Outlook. Oracles calendar tool also works on Macintosh systems, which is a key requirement for the school, as about 20 to 30 percent of the universitys population use Macs. Abilene also plans to trial some of the new content management features.

In 10g, Oracle adds its Content Services 10g repository for unstructured content with improved Windows desktop access and Web interface, folder- and document-level security, group- and role-based access control, and automatic policy-based versioning. On top of that, it adds a new tool called Workspaces, which functions as a container for managing documents, contacts, meetings, tasks and discussions related to a specific project.

Chris Colom, IT director for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is beta testing the product and is bullish on the new features in 10g. "The content management piece is huge; its a big benefit, especially Workspaces," said Colom. "Workspaces solves a number of issues for us. If you have a traditional file server model, you have tons of files and no organization. You can use directories and Web content management systems, but this is more like youre doing workflow. Its more than a file system but less than a Web content management system. If you add someone to a project list, they get invited to calendar meetings."

Oracle is also adding IM to its Collaboration Suite with the addition of Oracle Messenger.

The mobility aspects of the new suite will simplify wireless provisioning for UNCs highly mobile campus, said Colom. "With wireless provisioning, a user can enter what kind of wireless device they have and the type of device and select check marks that say I want wireless calendar, I want push e-mail. The user then just downloads the appropriate client," he said.

Oracles mobile push e-mail offering is a behind-the-firewall product that extends wireless e-mail to some Pocket PC and Palm-based phones. It is not clear yet how many different devices the new service will support. Wireless sync for the Oracle calendar uses the open-standard SyncML-based Oracle Mobile Data Sync.

Oracle is also enhancing its Oracle Mobile Access tool to allow users to access corporate directories through voice, and it has tweaked the voice access to e-mail to allow the option to just play e-mail headers.

Oracle has also improved the Web-based e-mail client in 10g to use dynamic HTML to allow for drag-and-drop functionality.


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