Oracle to counter Microsoft .Net

The database kingpin will throw its hat into the Web services arena on Monday with new framework and hosted services offerings.

Oracle on Monday will become the latest big software company to hitch its future to Web-based software and services.

Oracle is expected to announce its technology road map for helping companies deliver services over the Web, following similar announcements from Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard (hwp), IBM, and others in recent months. Oracle executives plan to explain how businesses can use the underlying technologies within its forthcoming 9i database and e-business software to offer new services via the Net, an Oracle representative said.

The database giant is also expected to announce two new hosted online services for renting Oracle software over the Web. Hosted services let companies lease business software over the Web for a monthly or per-use fee rather than buy and install it themselves.

Oracle (orcl) has already unveiled OracleSalesOnline.com, an online service that gives a company's sales force immediate access to sales productivity tools and critical customer information over the Web, based on a pay-per-use model. Oracle also is marketing Oracle Business Online, which hosts applications, and OracleMobile, a service that provides Web information over the phone.

Like many of its software rivals, Oracle envisions a future in which people don't have to install software on their PCs or Internet access devices. Instead, they will be able to access the software through the Web as a service, avoiding installation, maintenance, and upgrade problems.

The Web services vision has become a favorite of just about every major hardware and software vendor over the past year. Microsoft (msft) jumped on the bandwagon over the summer with its software-as-a-service .Net initiative.

Analysts say Oracle's announcements Monday will help validate the emerging Web services market.

"They (Oracle) are finally introducing an architecture and vision for Web services," said Gartner analyst Daryl Plummer. "We are in the beginning phases of the Web services evolution, but this (Oracle announcement) makes it one step closer to being legitimized."

Sun (sunw) and middleware vendor BEA Systems (beas) are the remaining large software companies yet to announce a software strategy for Web services, Plummer said.

An Oracle representative said Oracle will explain Monday how companies can use its latest release of 8i products and future 9i products to build Web services, which the company is calling "dynamic Web services."

The 8i and 9i product families are Internet infrastructure software lines that include the database, software that stores and collects information, and an application server, software that runs e-business transactions. Some type of framework -- a collection of interfaces and protocols to which developers can write Web-enabled applications and services -- also is likely to figure into Oracle's strategy.

Oracle 9i is anticipated to ship in 2001.

Microsoft's .Net strategy revolves around its so-called .Net framework, which the company will first deliver as part of its Visual Studio .Net tool suite next year. Also key to both Microsoft's and Oracle's Web services visions is XML (Extensible Markup Language), a Web standard for exchanging data.

Oracle plans new software that will allow businesses to offer and use Web services. It will also include an online directory that software programmers can use to register their Web service so other people can access it, an Oracle representative said.

Oracle's technology will support many Web standards, including Universal Description, Discovery and Integration (UDDI), a project created by Ariba (arba), IBM (ibm), and Microsoft to create a giant online Yellow Pages for businesses to find each other to conduct trades.

As a result, the Oracle representative said, Oracle's technology will work and communicate with competing software. Because XML is the underlying standard, a company using Oracle software can, at least in theory, conduct business with a company using Microsoft's technology.

As usual, Oracle's competitors, including Microsoft, tried to throw cold water on Oracle's anticipated Web-services unveiling.

"It's great that they (Oracle) are validating what the rest of the industry is doing," said Barry Goffe, group manager of Microsoft's .Net developer and enterprise group.

Analysts say early examples of Web services include the delivery of stock quotes and weather reports to cell phones and the ability to rent software, such as accounting or word-processing programs, through Web sites.

Future Web services will allow e-businesses to pick and choose which services they want to subscribe to. For example, executives at an e-commerce Web site that needs a credit card validation service can do a search, find the service with the cheapest transaction fees, and then automatically subscribe and use that service.

Microsoft plans to make its software available in stages. Its .Net framework will ship in 2001, according to the company. The next versions of Windows and Office, which will include some .Net elements, are due out next year too. Microsoft is delivering some Web services via its bCentral small business site, but also is looking to third-party developers to deliver other Web services.

Joshua Greenbaum, an analyst who heads Enterprise Applications Consulting, said Oracle is likely to introduce a duo of self-service applications such as human resources or marketing automation software on a pay-as-you-go basis.

"I would expect (Oracle) to continue to push nonstrategic functions (using) the SalesOnline model," Greenbaum said. "They're not going to put supply-chain management or any full-blown financial (software) package" online.

Oracle and Microsoft aren't the only companies eyeing the potential for hosted business software. Salesforce.com, the company headed by former Oracle veteran Marc Benioff, has said that it intends to become a total provider of business software services. Right now, Salesforce provides only sales force automation services. But Benioff has said the company intends to expand into the online financial and human resources arenas in the coming months.

ZDNet News' Mary Jo Foley and CNET's News.com's Melanie Austria Farmer contributed to this report.

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