As Oracle Corp. readies a new version of its namesake database optimized for the complex world of grid computing, it is also working on a hosted Web development environment designed to make developing applications easier.
HTML DB, a development environment formerly code-named Project Marvel, will be a standard component of the Oracle 10G database, which Oracle will unveil at the Oracle-World show in San Francisco this week.
Oracle gurus are calling HTML DB one of the most exciting new features of 10G. It consists of both a metadata repository that stores definitions for pages, regions, templates and fields and an engine that renders and processes pages. HTML DB is geared to midsize companies—a market in which Oracle has not been a major player in the past.
The development environments new timesaving features hold appeal for developers because they enable them to set up fairly sophisticated database development environments without having to know anything about the SQL programming language. For example, one key component, Data Workshop, allows data to be loaded into and extracted from the database. Wizards enable cut-and-paste operations that can, for example, turn spreadsheet data into a database table in seconds.
“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,” said Bill Dwight, vice president of application development tools at Oracle.
The Redwood Shores, Calif., company has deployed hundreds of applications built with HTML DB, including a customer analysis application built in one of Oracles sales divisions.
Kelly Cox, an Oracle database administrator who owns a small consultancy in Alexandria, Va., has been using the beta version of HTML DB to create an order management system for one of her clients.
Coxs development tool of choice prior to HTML DB would have been Oracle9iAS Portal, a browser-based application for building and deploying e-business portals. While Oracle Portal is fairly easy to use, such a scenario would have required an additional 500MB to 1GB of memory on her system for an application server, Cox said. In addition, it would have required her client, who “doesnt really have an IT staff,” to administer a portal.
“For a small shop, thats cumbersome,” Cox said. “Nobodys really technical there, and they dont need a full-time technical person. If I installed a full Oracle Application Server, theyd have hated that. Once you set it up, its good to go, but its got so many little processes in it, its a day and a half to fix it if anything breaks.”
According to developers who have worked with the beta of HTML DB, its Web-based interface closely resembles that of Microsoft Corp.s Access in that it puts a front end on the database. Access is a database management program for Office XP that lets novices build applications that integrate with the Web and enterprise data sources.
Between the easy-to-use features and the fact that HTML DB is being offered in a hosted environment, some Oracle users say the company is courting smaller customers.
“[With HTML DB], you dont have to invest in a development environment,” said Ian Abramson, chief technology officer of Red Sky Data Inc., in Toronto. “You dont have to worry about setting up the development environment. Thats not a big deal for companies with hundreds of servers. Maybe it is for a company that has one.”
John Meyer, an analyst for Forrester Research Inc., of Cambridge, Mass., is unsure if developers will accept a hosted environment, saying it is an untested and potentially dangerous scenario.
“We have a little skepticism about all the vendors offerings, particularly relative to online hosted environments, because of things like companies having issues with their data being mixed with other companies data,” Meyer said. “While some online tool offerings do work, its kind of uncharted waters.”
Another drawback could be that hard-core developers wont give up the option of tapping away at a keyboard on the train at 2 a.m. But others, like Cox, said theres little development work that can be done without an Internet connection, so that restriction is fine.
“HTML DB is cool in that it lets you export the flows and import them into another HTML DB instance, and … in development mode, the footprint is small enough to work on a laptop,” she said. “So, for OracleWorld, Ill use a little [Universal Serial Bus] memory device, save an export to that and import onto my laptop.”
Typically, an IT department would install HTML DB behind its corporate firewall and make it available as a shared service, Dwight said. Because users access the software via a browser, no installation on the desktop is required.
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