Oracle to release free database

The database giant hopes to head off rivals with its 10g Express Edition

Oracle plans to release a free version of its database by the end of the year, in a move to compete more effectively at the low end of the market.

Oracle recently released a beta version of the product, called Oracle Database 10g Express Edition, for 32-bit Windows and Linux systems.

The company hopes to attract new users to its software by offering them a free starter database for development and deployment purposes, Oracle says. Along with developers it wants to attract more educators and students.

Production use comes with restrictions. The database is limited to use with 4GB of data and 1GB of RAM and can be used on only one processor per server, Oracle says. The same conditions apply for use by independant software vendors.

The product is built on the same code base as Oracle’s existing 10g databases but with some options removed, so applications will run unchanged on Oracle’s higher-end databases, according to Tim Payne, Oracle’s vice president of technology marketing.

The company hopes users will try out the free version and then upgrade to a paid Oracle product if their data management needs outgrow its capacity.

“We’re finding customers out there who haven’t considered Oracle in the past and who have these kinds of low-end requirements,” Payne says.

Oracle plans to ship the final version of the database by the end of the year, he says.

Oracle leads the relational database market with its main rival, IBM. But Microsoft’s SQL Server has been gaining ground quickly, according to analysts. And momentum is also building behind open-source products from MySQL and others.

Oracle released the free product to attract new developers and to shore up its business in “the low-end corporate database market,” particularly against Microsoft, according to Donald Feinberg, a vice president and distinguished analyst with Gartner.

Microsoft is about to release its SQL Server 2005 upgrade, he notes. The 2005 family includes a low-end database called SQL Server Express that, like Oracle’s 10g Express, is free for limited production use. Oracle now has an alternative for customers considering SQL Server Express, Feinberg says.

The product could also help fend off a potential challenge from MySQL. The company is not a big threat to Oracle today, but its software improves with each new release says Andy Hayler, chief strategist with Kalido, maker of data warehousing and master data management products for Oracle and other databases.

“Oracle is starting to get troubled by MySQL,” Hayler says.

One big difference is that MySQL’s source code is freely available, he notes, while Oracle’s is not. That’s an advantage for MySQL, according to Hayler, because developers like to be able to submit bugs to mailing lists and know that others can work on the problem and post a fix.

Feinberg was less convinced. “The true open-source community for MySQL is pretty small. It’s not like Linux,” he says.

More significant, according to Feinberg, is that MySQL’s database comes with no deployment restrictions.

“Oracle does not have a free scalable version, and MySQL 5 is in production now and appears to be pretty scalable for some applications,” he says.

Oracle’s free database may be another step towards creating FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) in the minds of potential MySQL customers, Feinberg and Hayler say.

“It adds more FUD to the whole question of Oracle versus MySQL,” Feinberg says.

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