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News analysis: Oracle walking a fine line with 11i

Ben Vigil, Technical Editor

Oracle used last week's AppsWorld 2002 in San Diego, Calif. to showcase its newest E-Business Suite, release 11i.

Nearly every keynote address at the four-day show related to what 11i could do for customers. Mark Barrenchea, senior VP of market development, said that the principles behind 11i extended beyond the software itself.

Barrenchea said 11i offers IT amenities such as complete business flows, centralized data, open and scalable architecture, management information, and lower IT costs.

All these principles, in theory, combine to consolidate systems and improve overall performance, but they come with a few caveats.

"No software application is perfect, even 11i," said Barrenchea, adding that success depends on the amount of support a customer receives.

Oracle believes that the more "vanilla" its software is, the better support it can provide its customers. Oracle's ultimate goal is to eliminate customization of its software. It believes if its software is ready to use out-of-the-box, it will be easier to support it and upgrade it.

"We want customers to extend the system rather than customize it," stressed Oracle CEO and president Larry Ellison.

Now the only question is if Oracle can create a piece of software that can solve the business requirements of thousands of different companies.

Whether Oracle can convince users to upgrade and keep them from customizing some of the most widely used software in the world remains to

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be seen, but some very promising developments have arisen from this process. Oracle has continued to push for standardization and 11i is largely based on XML and other Internet-based technologies.

An interesting moment of levity occurred during the AppsWorld show when Ellison proclaimed that the notion of Web services being an industry-wide cure-all was "ridiculous."

He likened the situation of systems attempting to communicate with each other through Web services to a phone conversation between a French-speaking person and an English-speaking person; if they are unable to understand each other over a landline, switching to cellular won't help. Regardless of the medium, they still speak different languages.

Oracle's executives are definitely speaking the same language: upgrading and not customizing will be most beneficial to the customer. Or is that most beneficial to Oracle? While extolling the virtues of 11i, the word outsourcing was also a consistent theme at the show. As Oracle continues to prove it is one of the most powerful software companies in the world, it is taking steps to tie users to its services as well.

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