Enterprise apps get a face-lift

At Oracle OpenWorld and JavaOne, improving the UIs of enterprise Java applications was all the buzz

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Will developers rise to the challenge?
But while these improvements are all well and good, will enterprise developers really take advantage of them? "The root problem as I see it is not lack of powerful UI technology," says Gartner research vice president Ray Valdes. "Instead, the root causes for suboptimal user experience have to do with lack of appropriate process, and governance, and lack of a genuine commitment to a quality user experience."

Yet this too could change. Competition is a powerful motivator, and if even a few application vendors begin stepping up to the challenge of the consumerization of enterprise IT, the broader industry will be forced to follow suit.

Here again, Oracle is leading the charge. The stars of this year's OpenWorld were the Oracle Fusion Applications, the long-awaited results of Oracle's efforts to merge its various business application lines, including those it acquired from PeopleSoft, Siebel, and J.D. Edwards. And while Oracle CEO Larry Ellison made much hay of the five-year coding effort that produced the new applications, he devoted equal time during his OpenWorld keynote to extoling the virtues of their UIs.

Describing the current generation of enterprise apps as "20-year-old technology," Ellison explained how Oracle consulted with customers and UI experts to improve the user experience of the Fusion Applications, such as winnowing down the number of keystrokes it took to complete commonplace functions. "Even Salesforce is 10 years old," Ellison said -- the implication being that if you want to succeed in the Web-based applications business, you need to stay ahead of the curve of Web technologies and standards.

Mind you, the Fusion Applications aren't using the forthcoming JavaFX-based programming model Kurian described in his keynote -- yet. But there's every indication that Oracle plans to eat its own dog food with this latest generation of its applications. Just for starters, the Fusion Applications are built on the very same middleware stack Oracle sells to its customers -- which it had never done before.

"This is the first time an ERP suite has been built on industry-standard middleware," Ellison said. And the fact that he'd boast about it may be the most encouraging thing of all about the changes Oracle is making, both to its applications and to the Java platform. It tells me that even Oracle recognizes that in today's market, it's not enough simply to be the biggest. You also have to build enterprise applications right -- and that goes for the front end as well as the back.

This article, "Enterprise apps get a face-lift," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Neil McAllister's Fatal Exception blog and follow the latest news in programming at InfoWorld.com.

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