Oracle positions database tool as scripting alternative

But product only works with company's own databases

Offering an alternative to popular scripting languages, Oracle on Tuesday is announcing availability of an upgrade to its free tool for building Web applications that access Oracle databases.

Oracle Application Express Release 2.2, or APEX, was known in previous incarnations as HTML DB. Built as a browser-based, declarative tool, Apex is suitable for tasks in which a spreadsheet traditionally has been used – it's for Web deployments, said Mike Hichwa, vice president of software development at Oracle. Applications such as surveys and event registration forms can be deployed via APEX, which can be viewed as a Microsoft Access replacement.

"We think it's a unique product. It's kind of like Microsoft Access but it's not a thick client. It's kind of like Ruby and PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor) but it's not really scripting and it's not a framework in a 3GL like C# or J2EE," Hichwa said. Like APEX, Ruby and PHP also are designed for building simple, straightforward Web applications, Hichwa said. But these scripting languages are more complicated than APEX, he said.

Oracle hopes to build a community around APEX, with developers sharing packaged applications such as wikis, blogs, or discussion forums. Currently, only a couple of applications are available on the Oracle Technology Network but the company hopes to expand that to 20 applications by the time of the Oracle OpenWorld conference in late-October.

"Oracle positions this tool for departmental, opportunistic applications," Hichwa said. These are applications that can be developed quickly and do not require a three-tiered development architecture, such as what may be constructed using Oracle's more complex JDeveloper tool, Hichwa said.

An Oracle database, specifically version 9i R2 or higher, is needed to use APEX. The tool is installed within the database.

Featured in the new version are productivity enhancements for building Web applications. Reuse of applications is promoted through the ability to package applications and dependent objects such as tables, seed data and images into a single file.

The packaged application feature enables application to be packaged and distributed as a single file that holds logic, images, tables and seed data such as sample data. Cascading Style Sheets or HTML also can be included. The feature promotes reuse and eliminates what had been a multistep process for packaging of applications.

"It was very cumbersome [previously]," Hichwa said. "With this, you have a single file, you go through a wizard process, next, next, next and you're done."

An Item Finder search tool in Version 2.2 allows users to search within applications; component-level export also is included. An Access Control wizard controls access to applications and assists with building of screens to manage users.

A Developer Comment feature lets developers add comments to an application, page or a group of pages. This boosts group development of applications.

Dictionary views of Oracle APEX metadata enables writing of custom documentation, performance of ad hoc metadata reporting and access to metadata from within applications, Oracle said.

An ISV using the product said it offers quick development of Web applications. "I'd like to say it takes a lot of the nonsense out of Web development," said Scott Spendolini, president of Sumner Technologies. The tool takes on functions such as session state management and optimistic locking schemes, he said.

"Basically, I started a company focusing in on building solutions with the tool and we're using it in all the major verticals," such as health care, federal government and education, Spendolini said. One application by Sumner is a Sarbanes-Oxley compliance tool, he said.

Oracle changed the name of the tool because customers asked for the change, Hichwa said. "Customers e-mailed Larry [Ellison, Oracle CEO] and said that the product was all about ease of use and simplicity and the name, HTML DB, made it sound really complicated," Hichwa said.

The tool is accessible here.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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