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Fancy a freebie?

Oracle has finally jumped on the "free" database bandwagon, joining the likes of IBM, Microsoft and Sybase. Will users bite?
Written by Fran Foo, Contributor on
commentary Oracle has finally jumped on the "free" database bandwagon, joining the likes of IBM, Microsoft and Sybase as enterprise software vendors move to gain more mindshare by offering their wares at no cost.
Fran Foo, ZDNet Australia
The plan for the Oracle 10g Express Edition is simple: encourage more developers and students to start using Oracle's products and try to gain entry into the SME (small- and medium-sized enterprise) space -- a traditional Microsoft stronghold.

Additionally, like all commercial software makers, Oracle is facing competition from open-source foes. Apps such as PostgreSQL and Firebird are known among the developer community, but aren't as popular as MySQL -- which has open-source origins but charges for commercial support.

A senior Oracle executive in fact readily acknowledged the pressure his company was under from Microsoft and open-source software companies.

"There is definitely a market there (for low-end databases) and a demand. And we want them to be using Oracle and not MySQL or SQL Server Express," Andrew Mendelsohn, senior vice president of Oracle's server technologies division, told CNET News.com. "It's definitely a reaction to the market interest."

Mendelsohn hopes that once users are familiar with 10g Express, bigger things will come and that will translate into earnings. "Even though the database is initially free, standards progress and those university students who are playing with the database today will eventually be working at corporations and making product decisions," he said.

Oracle simply had no choice but to take this route ... the top end of the market, which represents its cash cow, is highly saturated. The only space to breathe seems to be the SME landscape. So what are Oracle's enemies up to?

Microsoft has been too busy to bother with Oracle in the free database space. With the final versions of Visual Studio 2005, SQL Server 2005 and BizTalk Server 2006 launching in Sydney on November 8, Microsoft declined to comment on Oracle's announcement, telling ZDNet Australia it will address the issue then.

SQL Server 2005 will come in four editions -- Express (free), Workgroup, Standard and Enterprise. Features comparisons can be found at Microsoft's Web site.

IBM, well, that's a bit of a mystery. Big Blue released a free version of its DB2 database early last month but hasn't made a sound in the Australian market. Its "light" version, called DB2 Express, hasn't made a serious dent in the marketplace either.

Now, compare this to MySQL. When version 5.0 was about to be launched, there was a fair bit of excitement in the open-source and analyst communities, as well as the media.

The company, which shares the same name as its flagship product, claims MySQL 5 has notched over two millions downloads since going live last week. The bold statements don't end there. Also on its Web site, MySQL says Sabre/Travelocity has saved over US$10 million using MySQL while on average, companies using MySQL have saved between US$250,000 and US$500,000 per project.

In terms of usage, MySQL doesn't place limitations like Oracle and Microsoft. The Oracle 10g Express Edition, for instance, only runs one processor with 4GB of disk memory and 1GB of RAM.

Some of the world's largest companies and government agencies, which demand high availability, robust and scalable back-end systems, use MySQL. They include Google, Amazon, Bank of America, Yahoo, and the US Department of Defense.

It's a pretty impressive list of clients. I'm sure IBM, Microsoft and Oracle will be able to spring up a few big names as well but what makes MySQL stand out is less bloatware, which enables the database to be installed much faster than its more mature rivals.

MySQL has turned the database market on its head. The effect it has had on Oracle was clear when on October 10, it swallowed Innobase -- a small Helsinki-based firm that "powers" the MySQL database engine through a product called InnoDB.

Oracle hasn't been resting on its laurels ... both Innobase and 10g Express Edition are part of its survival plan but at this stage, it's unclear how much marketing dollars have been committed to driving the free version. Perhaps more will be revealed in time but until then, it'll struggle to reinvent itself to users who know Oracle for its expensive toys.

Do you plan to give Oracle 10g Express Edition a go or have you downloaded MySQL or SQL Server Express beta? Share your experience by writing to edit@zdnet.com.au or talkback below.

Fran Foo is ZDNet Australia managing editor.

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