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Oracle Takes Another Page From Open Source

Oracle's latest Express database toolset version is still free -- as in free beer -- but takes even more inspiration from the free software movement, albeit with a few catches.

The database giant is launching into wide release today the latest version of Application Express 2.2, its free tool for building Web apps from a browser.

Formerly known as Oracle HTML DB, the tool is integrated with all releases of Oracle Database 10g and Oracle9i Database Release 2 at no additional cost, said Mike Hichwa, Oracle's vice president of software development.

"We're making it easier to share and deploy an application," Hichwa told internetnews.com. "And it's easier to sell an app if you're a VAR [value-added reseller]. You can package it all into a single file."

APEX 2.2 is integrated with all editions of Oracle Database 10g and Oracle9i Database Release 2. But don't let those big database systems scare you. Hichwa said the APEX tool is built for users with limited programming experience.

The latest version's features share the same goal: reducing the time and complexity involved with developing and deploying Web applications.

Like the version one before it, the new release promotes the reuse of Web applications by enabling users to package applications and dependent objects such as tables, seed data and images into a single file.

Hichwa said this enables applications to be installed seamlessly into other Oracle Databases running Oracle Application Express.

Plus, Oracle   is offering free hosting space for project development, much like SourceForge.net and Google's recent project hosting service as part of its Google Code division.

Hichwa said it's not quite fair to call the APEX 2.2 package open source.

But "we are trying very much to capitalize on that movement and that space," he said. "It's much more than collaboration. We think we have a great community. We saw that with the launch. There's a wealth of knowledge, experience and resources out there, not just with your customers, which you can tap into."

And not every open source project is all that easy, he added. Look at the complexity of open source scripting language PHP .

"It can be an esoteric language, and it can be difficult to read and understand. With APEX, they have an easier time with declaratives, for example," Hichwa said.

Other features include an item finder search tool, which helps users search for items, pages, queries, tables or PL/SQL objects within the pages of an application.

Dictionary views expose metadata for applications allowing users to write custom documentation and perform ad hoc metadata reporting. They can also access metadata from within applications.

Forrester Research appears keen on APEX. In a research note in July, Forrester Senior Analyst Noel Yuhanna noted the adoption of Oracle Application Express has jumped two-fold in the last calendar year "because it is easy to use, saves money when consolidating spreadsheets and desktop databases and comes bundled for free with Oracle Database."

It's not a replacement for Java or .NET development environments, he added in his note, but it can help develop and deploy Web applications quickly.