Oracle's Forms Strategy – Does it exist? ODTUG 2005 Wrap Up (part 1)

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I do not understand Oracle’s strategy with regard to Oracle Forms. If such a thing really exists. Oracle has made it very clear that Development Tools are only considered ‘enablers of run time licenses’. So Oracle only sells us development tools – probably far below cost price – to keep us buying Oracle RDBMS and AppServer licenses. And the development tools are hanging around anyway because Oracle Apps needs them to develop the E Business Suite.

It is perfectly possible to develop applications using JDeveloper and deploy them on any Application Server. AMIS has been deploying application built using JDeveloper in web servers and application servers like Tomcat and WebSphere. And these applications can make use of any JDBC Driver enabled database, such as MySQL, DB2 or SQLServer. So clearly, hooking us onto JDeveloper is by no means a guarantee for selling run time licenses.

On the other hand, anyone building applications using Oracle Forms is certain to use the Oracle RDBMS for deployment. And with WebForms also the Oracle Application Server for middle tier infrastructure. So the easiest way to continue selling licenses it to make darned sure that existing Forms customers are not cut loose from Forms, moving to JDeveloper and essentially being free to choose any Application Server and any Database.

All Oracle would have to do for this, is send out a clear message. That it is and stays committed to Oracle Forms. That Oracle Apps will use Forms for quite some time to come. That investments in new functionality will continue to be made – even if these are small investments.

And it should not certify partner solutions for migrating away from Oracle Forms, especially if such a migration is to an far more uncertain architecture. It is quite unclear whether certification of partners like Churchill, NIOS and CipherSoft suggests that Oracle actually endorses these solutions, actually actively recommends its Forms customers to move away from Forms.

In my opinion, organizations currently using Forms, having the skills available, that are going to develop intra-net applications for intensive use, should definitely go on using Oracle Forms.

Forms is not a very suitable tool for developing internet web applications. Forms is not ideal for self-service style applications, that are only very infrequently used by relatively unskilled end-users. In those instances, build an HTML user interface on top of a Java middle tier. That is where ADF and JDeveloper typically come in.

It seems unlikely, especially given the uncertainty surrounding Forms, that any new customers will start using Forms, although I have heard stories about companies doing some exactly that in the recent past. And I would say: why not? The benefits of tight integration with the database, the very high development productivity, the leveraging of existing server side SQL and PL/SQL skills combined with the administrative benefits of web-deployment as well as the recent integration option with J2EE applications make Forms still a strong candidate in many development tools selections. The Development Tools race that was recently held in The Netherlands saw the classic Oracle tool stack – Designer and Forms – finish in second place, well ahead of Java and especially .Net based solutions. (the number one by the way was Magic).

Forms to J2EE migration tools, such as Churchill’s JAutomator and Ciphersoft, do not seem to be getting a lot of traction. I would say: if you do not like Forms, do not migrate to something that exactly looks like Forms – even though it is J2EE technology, it is definitely not architectured and maintainable the way a typical J2EE application would or should be. The only reason I could think of doing it like this is when upper management for some reason wants to get off Oracle technology fast! If you like your Forms, do not migrate! If you do not like Forms anymore, do not migrate using a tool that will give you something very similar to Forms.

Forms will be around for many years, if only because of the Oracle Apps base. A quick inventarization of the current status and ongoing developments within Apps – investigations into ADF, merger with PeopleSoft, evaluation of People Tools and building of Fusion Vision – suggests that it will take up to 5-7 years before there might be an Apps release without any Forms technology. Then support for Apps releases that contain Oracle Forms will run at least until four years after that. So I do not think Forms is really going to fade away before 2015 or so.

Forms 10gR2 will see some improvements: a JavaScript API for calling into a Form and a JVM pooling mechanism that makes it much more feasible to implement Java callouts on the middle tier. That means that integration of Forms with J2EE APIs is becoming much more of a reality. The JVMs will be preloaded, so any Form Instance requiring a JVM for doing some Java integration can get hold of it instantly. Note that there will be a substantial memory footprint associated with these JVMs.

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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.

9 Comments

  1. I fully Agree with Ashish Ranjan. I was looking for a desktop solution on the similar lines with MSDE for a smaller application that is likely grow into a major application over a period of time(100% Sure). I have Oracle XE in place of MSDE but when I look towards FORMS/Reports as middle layer solution I do not have any such kind of offerings from Oracle on account of Oracle Application server which can allow me a limited functionality of Oracle AS clubbed with Forms/Reports services only at no cost to form a starter base for my application. I think Oracle is concentrating too much on enterprise side, that is obvious & good, but what about small applications whose foundation stone is being laid today and these child applications will definitely grow tomorrow demanding enterprise grade versions. You can not ignore child because you are designing for adults only.
    I would request Grant not to ignore child applications which are in womb. Would love to see an XE release of Oracle application server clubbed with Forms/Reports so to give a perfect company to XE version of Oracle Database for child applications in womb, So that tomorrow when these child applications grow up into adult applications they are given smooth transition to enterprise grade offerings from oracle with proper paid up licenses.
    There is a vide community of Forms/Reports developers out there who would love such an offerings instead of being forced into other directions.

  2. More than the confusion regarding the future of Forms and Reports, am really curious what does it all mean for New Applications being developed? The pace at which Oracle is introducing newer versions and the tight integration means lot of investment for an uncertain future. Why not just develop in typical J2EE environment?

  3. Grant,

    I am really sorry for taking so much time for anwering your comments. Other things have been on my mind – but that is no excuse. It is impolite. So I apologize.

    I wrote the original posting right after the ODTUG 2005 conference where in my experience Oracle Forms did not get any attention at all from Oracle. No presentations, hardly a mention in Christopher Job’s keynote. It was my feeling, not just in my own head but also from discussions with other conference attendees, that Oracle did not make things as clear as you probably would like them to be.

    Perhaps you can answer some very straight questions:
    – is Oracle still actively developing the Oracle Forms product?
    – if so, what are new pieces of functionality to be expected in coming period? Or at least: in which areas can they be found?
    – is Oracle still building NEW Forms modules in their E-Business Suite? (given the next item and the fact that Oracle Apps has been Forms’ biggest and most important customer, one would think that there currently is precious little impetus for enhancing the functionality; I would like to be mistaken here though)
    – from an interview I did in 2004 with John Wookey I understand that a migration from Forms to the Java/J2EE technology stack is now planned; can you give an estimate as to when an Apps release will ship without any Forms technology in it?
    – does Oracle recommend customers new to Oracle Forms to start using it? Or is a gentle ‘perhaps you’d like to consider our ADF stack instead’ more the party line?

    After posing these questions, I finally went to the Oracle Forms Statement of Direction (September 2005), at: ToolsSOD.pdf.

    I like the statement on one of two primary goals for moving Forms and Reports forward: “Allowing Forms and Reports applications to take full advantage of the application server services and inter-operate with J2EE applications”. I cannot find details on what this will mean in concreto: how much will happen, when will it happen, what’s the level of investment Oracle is making? A five man team that also does bugfixing and porting? Or 30 people working on this?

    The SoD then states: “Oracle remains committed to Oracle Forms and Reports and as such has no plans to stop development of these products.” That is what I like to hear. But again it does not give me a better feeling for what the intensity of this development effort will be. Is it just a marketing message or is there a real commitment to a serious and active development effort. And what will that result in?

    The SoD is making it a little bit more specific: “Oracle Forms and Oracle Reports will continue to be enhanced and will introduce new features in the future versions of the application server. Oracle’s development teams are already working on features for Forms/Reports 11g and beyond. This aligned with the commitment outlined above means that Oracle is already
    committing development resources that will take Forms and Reports through to, at least, 2013.”

    However, it leaves it unclear how much will happen. However, I feel confident that Oracle is not pulling the plug in the near future. The SoD concludes with: “Oracle is fully committed to support Oracle Forms, Reports and Designer for a very long period of time. The support cycle will now be aligned with the Oracle Application Server and Developer Suite. While Oracle Designer will not include new features, Oracle Forms and Oracle Reports will continue to evolve to allow customers to easily upgrade their applications to the web and benefit from the centralized deployment and shared services that the Application server provides.”

    Could you, Grant, be more specific about what is really going to happen with Forms? Will it still be a vibrant, alive product? Does Oracle wants to continue to attract new audiences to it?

  4. Ashish – all (nearly all) Oracle software is available FREE for download from OTN for evluation…and Oracle
    JDeveloper is totally FREE for production systems.
    Grant

  5. apart from this , i do not know if oracle has any MSDE kind of strategy. Microsoft has given away MSDE free(free means deployment also, apart from development time) , which is a scaled down version of Sql Server with various restrictionsl; so in this case all the apps which want to use a desktop db use MSDE freely and later in case of bigger deployment the migration (no sql commands needs to be changed) is smooth to Sql Server and this strategy of Microsoft is bearing fruits a lot, atleast what i am seeing in India. I do not see that Oracle is pushing any kind of this type of strategy where a basic scaled down small version of database is FULLY free for development and deployment both. This will help them to fight with Jet (Ms Access) and MSDE market too, paying off when the apps depending upon these backends grow bigger and need to depoy actual full oracle db server.
    Although i am a big oracle fan, but i am extremely sorry to see this fate of their non-existent strategy.
    bye :-)
    Ashish

  6. Grant Ronald on

    Hi Lucas, still interested in your thoughts if our information is not visible enough.

  7. Lucas, I was a bit disappointed that you thought our strategy was not clear. You say “All Oracle would have to do for this, is send out a clear message. That it is and stays committed to Oracle Forms. ”
    Well, have you visited the Forms otn page http://www.oracle.com/technology/products/forms/index.html
    The second sentence on that page is “Oracle remains committed to the development of this technology, and to the ongoing release as a component of the Oracle platform” We then have two links to the statement of
    direction document and a viewlet.
    Regarding migrationwe have said that we are
    “However, given the architecture
    difference between J2EE and Forms or Reports, Oracle has no plans to offer a complete migration
    solution that would attempt to migrate applications built with these tools to J2EE.”
    However given that there are still valid reasons to consider migration doesn’t it make sense to ensure
    that the migration is as successfull as possible and that is why we work with a subset of migration companies
    to share information.
    I’m not really sure how we can make it clearer – happy to hear yor thoughts on how we would make this clearer
    Regards
    Grant Ronald