Day Two of the ODTUG 2005 Conference – Oracle's Development Tools Strategy, JDeveloper free?, JHeadstart and more…

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ODTUG 2005 is under way. 600 Oracle Developers, users of Oracle Forms and Designer, JDeveloper and Portal, Discoverer and Reports and many other Oracle technologies, have gathered in the Gumbo capital of the World: New Orleans. Let’s talk a bit about Monday, the general session with the Keynote Session by Christophe Job, Oracle Vice President for Application Development Tools. This mean: he leads Oracle Designer, Oracle Forms and especially Oracle JDeveloper.

General Session on ODTUG

The Conference Chair and the President of the ODTUG board held brief presentations. Of course this is “going to be the conference ever”. With some 600 attendants, up 16% over 2004, the conference is recovering from last year’s disappointing turn out. ODTUG is somewhat expanding: from focused on Oracle Tools only, it will now cover all tools that are used around the Oracle Technology Stack. Clearly this includes Microsoft .Net Visual Studio. In fact, Microsoft has become one of the main sponsors for the whole event, while Oracle does not actively sponsor anymore (Oracle of course still makes a substantial contribution through all the staff that is here and the hands on sessions that are being held).

A quick poll of the audience revealed that (my rough estimates of the numbers of hands) that about 90 % of those present is doing work with Oracle Designer, Forms and Reports. About 25-30% uses JDeveloper.

Awards ceremony

The awards were presented: Best Speaker was for Toon Koppelaars (Centraal Boekhuis), who unfortunately was not here to collect the award. Toon has now won two awards in a row; last year he received the award for Best Paper. Best Presentation and Best Paper were both awarded to Steven Feuerstein, for his Gee Whiz presentation on 10g last year and his paper on Handling Errors in PL/SQL this year. I had been nominated for best paper – for my paper on BPEL. Not winning is then always a bit of a disappointment. But better luck next time, he?

Christophe Job’s Keynote

In the past, the keynote used to be one of the conference highlights. People like Sohaib Abassi, Ian Fisher and Bill Dwight were very charismatic, presented a vision and could _ especially Bill Dwight – energize the whole room. I can only hope that this year’s keynote will not turn out to be the conference highlight. Christophe Job is a sympathetic man with a message he is not very happy with. It seems. His background may provide some explanation: he may not have the same emotional bonds with Oracle Designer and Oracle Forms that his predecessors had or developed. Then again, he may just not be a very forceful presenter.

His presentation was very much like his presentation from one year ago, intentionally. He started by saying that Oracle needs to build up credibility with its toolstack. What he probably means is: customers must gain confidence that Oracle has a clear strategy, that long term investments are not suddenly rendered void when Oracle decides to abandon parts of its technology stack and that improvements in the development tools will continue to be added. And yes, that confidence has been underminded over the last few years. So there is a challenge.

Unfortunately, the presentation did not much to restore the confidence. When Job showed how much the quality of the Forms product had improved, he used a slide that graphically displayed the ‘deferral rate’, that is the number of bugs the products are knowingly shipped with. That slide clearly showed a gradual decrease of the deferral rate over the last few releases. But while the slide’s title clearly suggested that this was all about Forms, the release labels on the graph included 9.0.3 and 9.05 – these are not labels ever used for Forms or 9iDS/10gDS releases; these are JDeveloper release labels. Of course a dropping deferral rate, a cynic, may be quick to point out, does not actually tell you about the number of bugs in the product; it only indicates the number of bugs Oracle knew about when shipping the product…

Again, like last year, Christophe Job pointed out the various paths to follow for existing Forms users: migration (to J2EE), upgrade (to the latest release), move from Client/Server to the Web, integration with J2EE services from Forms. He mentioned a few 3rd party vendors who have solutions for the migration to J2EE – Ciphersoft, Churchill and NIOS. He failed to mention JHeadstart, a comparable offering from Oracle itself, albeit from Oracle Consulting and not product development. It cannot be that he is not aware of it, because he clearly must be. It cannot be that he thinks JHeadstart is inferior, because clearly it is not. Not mentioning JHeadstart can only be the result of some political ploy. Having Steven Davelaar from Oracle present on JHeadstart during ODTUG 2005- for example in the three hour long tool topic session on Sunday, a session that well attended and very well rated – and intentionally not mentioning JHeadstart in the general session does not do much to restore confidence in a clear and honest message from Oracle.

Christophe pointed out that a new development stack is being put to together by Oracle, labeled Fusion. Fusion will be the stack for the integrated development of Oracle E-Business Suite and PeopleSoft. It seems likely that Fusion will have parts from the current Oracle Development stack as well as components from the People Tools. Job stated that Oracle now has some 10.000 developers that will work with Fusion tools. Any increase in productvity provided by those tools will enormously benefit Oracle itself (10.000 times a little productivity improvement can amount to a serious savings). So productivity and ease of use are two key goals for Fusion. In the mean time, Job wanted to be clear that the glory days for Oracle Tools are far from over. He could have said it with a little more drive and conviction.

By the way, the message was that JDeveloper will be the core IDE in the Fusion stack, that will support among others Portal, Mobile and BPEL development. Job also suggested that Repository Based Development – you know, what we used to have with Oracle Designer – is very much on the radar. He clearly sees the value and it will be made available from Oracle, it just takes longer to put together than Oracle had anticipated. So before too long we will get from Oracle what we used to have, but we have to wait a little longer because it is not easy to build. Now I am being cynical, I realize that Repository Based Development in a J2EE technology stack is not the same as the relationally focused way of working in Oracle Designer and Forms. It is just that this message was not very clear either. However, he was clear on that Forms, Reports and Designer WILL be part of Fusion Middleware and therefore will have support until 2013.

When asked about HTML DB, Job had a somewhat difficult time. He claimed not to know whether Oracle Apps is using or planning on using HTML DB in the E-Business Suite. I would think that someone like him would know something like that, so this could be a way of saying that since he does not know, they probably are not. However, he went on to say that his department was actively using HTML DB for workgroup level stuff. He did not go into details.

The keynote had no demos. A room full of 500 techies and not a single screenshot, let alone a live demo. Gone are the days when the ODTUG keynote had four product managers on stage, trying to outdo each other with the best demos for BI, Designer, Forms and Portal. Not a single demo. That is a pity.

Open source was the next theme in the presentation. Oracle is going to be more ‘aggressive’ about Open Source, said Job. There are several responses Oracle may towards a certain open source offering:
1. Adopt, for example Linux
2. Co-opt, for example Struts
3. Compete for example provide migration from MySQL
4. Contribute to, for example Spring (TopLink support) or Eclipse (EJB 3.0 plugin)

Eclipse is an interesting one: from a JDeveloper’s point of view, Eclipse is competition and Oracle will compete against it. On a broader level is Eclipse one of the potential enabling technologies for Oracle’s runtime stack. So it also makes contributions to Eclipse and actively supports the Eclipse Foundation.

In some instances, Oracle intends to compete more aggressively with Open Source products. Even on price. JavaOne, next week in San Fransisco, will see some announcements about this strategy. Hmmm, sounds interesting!

Summary

Oracle’s development tools are not going away. JDeveloper will be the IDE for Fusion Middleware. Key themes are ease of use and productivity. Oracle is taking a more aggressive stand on Open Source Software (I would think active may be a better phrasing than aggressive, but this is what Christophe Job said). Oracle wants to sometimes even compete with OSS on price. Job suggested that next week, during JavaOne, we will see some announcements.

Compete on Price: that can only mean Oracle will give something away. Since Oracle is primarily interested in runtime licenses for its Database and Application Server products, and it sees tools as enablers for this runtime technology, it may very well be that some development tools will be released for free. Job did not go into details, but I would not be surprised if this means that Oracle will announce that JDeveloper will be free from now one. This may mean that we will also see runtime licensing for ADF for example. However, let it be clear that Job did not say anything about the content of next week’s announcements, this is just my interpretation of what could happen!

Oracle Designer

I got to meet Siraj and Kannan from the Oracle Designer Development Team in Bangalore, India. I had some conference calls with them in 2001 and early 2002 when they took over the Oracle Designer Web Assistant that I had largely developed and incorporated it into Oracle Designer as Repository Object Browser. It was nice to meet them ‘in the flesh’. We talked a bit about Designer’s future, about the fact that 6i,9i, 9.0.4 (1og) and 10.1.2 (10gR2) are essentially all the same code for Oracle Designer. They suggested that after 10.1.2, there might be some opportunity for real improvements.

One source of such improvements can be the Community Source Program that is currently being initiated by Oracle. This offers Oracle Designer users who have extended Designer with templates, utilities and other add-ons, to make that code available to Oracle and have it somehow included with the base product. At this point, it is really uncertain exactly how that will be done, what the procedure will be, if there is any form of recognition or credits for individuals and organisations doing so etc. But it definitely seems an interesting concept, that Oracle seems willing to allow us ourselves to improve a product they will not heavily invest in anymore, while they will take responsibility for packaging, support etc.

Last year I started to do a bit of work on improving the Repository Object Browser (allowing Insert, Update and Delete of Designer elements). I never completed it, but now Kannan said he was very interested so I probably will finish it after all. It is certainly nice to know a piece of code will go out to potentially tens of thousands of users – I do not do that every day.

Hopefully we will soon here more about this Community Source Initiative.

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About Author

Lucas Jellema, active in IT (and with Oracle) since 1994. Oracle ACE Director for Fusion Middleware. Consultant, trainer and instructor on diverse areas including Oracle Database (SQL & PLSQL), Service Oriented Architecture, BPM, ADF, Java in various shapes and forms and many other things. Author of the Oracle Press book: Oracle SOA Suite 11g Handbook. Frequent presenter on conferences such as JavaOne, Oracle OpenWorld, ODTUG Kaleidoscope, Devoxx and OBUG. Presenter for Oracle University Celebrity specials.

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