Oracle offers product for mobile applications

Oracle Corp. plans to tap the growing market for mobile applications with a new version of its relational database management software (RDBMS) that is slim enough to run on a laptop computer.

Personal Oracle Lite, now available, fills out the low end of racle's RDBMS offering. The product fits in less than 1M of memory and 10M of disk space and runs on Microsoft Corp. Windows and Windows NT-based computers.

Oracle also is giving users a sneak preview of the forthcoming Oracle8 RDBMS by supporting object-relational technology, remote management and other management functions. However, the new software will not support data replication with database servers until a second release later this year.

"You can go into any agency in the government and find portions of those agencies that have a mobile work force," said Mike Stievater, a marketing manager for Oracle Government, Bethesda, Md. In addition to general database users, the new release would be ideal for such users as border patrol personnel, he said.

Personal Oracle Lite is available now for $195 per user and will be added to Oracle's General Services Administration schedule.

The company last year released a PC version of its Unix-based database software, called Personal Oracle7, which runs on Windows 3.1 and Windows NT.

Industry analysts saw the introduction of Personal Oracle7 as an attempt to capture some of the desktop market that has been dominated by Microsoft and other PC database companies.

Sometimes Smaller Is Better

Although Personal Oracle7 is much smaller than a full database package, it is not small enough for some users, the company discovered.

Personal Oracle7 "was more aimed toward the developer," Stievater said. "We certainly found a need for a consumer database that runs in a much smaller footprint."

In particular, Oracle wants to attract low-end users in organizations that already use Oracle elsewhere in the enterprise. Personal Oracle Lite, like Personal Oracle7, is based on the same software kernel as the Unix-based server product.

Having the same database kernel on every platform may be an advantage on indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts, Stievater said. "It saves time in porting applications from platform to platform," he said.

Personal Oracle Lite is well-suited for many users who need to take data on the road, analysts said.

Oracle is offering "an SQL solution that lacks the maintenance level associated with Oracle [and is] more resource-efficient," said Karen Moser, a senior analyst at the Aberdeen Group, a Boston consulting firm.

"This could be something where I could run an application, but I don't [require] a lot of local functionality," said Judy Davis, an associate with Database Associates International, Morgan Hills, Calif.

Personal Oracle Lite melds with Oracle's larger database strategy. The new product can be used with Oracle Software Manager, which allows administrators to automatically update software on remote systems through dial-up or mobile radio connections. Also, it will run applications developed with Developer/2000 or other development tools.

However, the first release has its drawbacks. Although the portable database can download data from database servers, it does not yet support two-way data replication, which is necessary to keep portable users synchronized with the corporate database.

"To have a really capable mobile product, they need to have replication," Davis said. "It's obviously limiting your applications if you don't."

Also, industry analysts questioned the initial relevance of Personal Oracle Lite's support for object-relational technology. Object-relational technology—which allows relational databases to store objects—will enable Oracle8 to handle multimedia information, including text, images and other nontraditional data formats. The value of object technology in Personal Oracle Lite, however, depends completely on how well Oracle incorporates that technology as part of its larger database strategy, Moser said.

Analysts also said it is unclear how much demand there will be for such capabilities on a portable database.

Oracle, however, cited federal examples in which object technology could come into play. In the case of a border patrol, object-relational technology will allow users to access mug shots and other images on their portable computers, Stievater said.

In addition, this feature could allow Federal Emergency Management Agency personnel to scan in photographs from disaster sites, he said.

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