I have to decide between using the Oracle database and WebDB vs. Microsoft SQL Server with Visual Studio. This choice will guide our future Web projects. What are the strong points of each of these combinations and what are the negatives?
Lori: Making your decision will depend on what you already have. For instance, if you want to implement a Web-based database application and you are a Windows-only shop, SQL Server and the Visual Studio package would be fine. But the Oracle solution would be better with mixed platforms.
There are other things to consider, such as what extras you get and what skills are required. WebDB is a content management and development tool that can be used by content creators, database administrators, and developers without any programming experience.
WebDB is a browser-based tool that helps ease content creation and provides monitoring and maintenance tools. This is a good solution for organisations already using Oracle. Oracle also scales better than SQL Server, but you will need to have a competent Oracle administrator on hand.
The SQL Server/Visual Studio approach is more difficult to use and requires an experienced object-oriented programmer or some extensive training.
However, you do get a fistful of development tools with Visual Studio: Visual Basic, Visual C++, and Visual InterDev for only $US1,619. Plus, you will have to add the cost of the SQL Server, which will run you $1,999 for 10 clients or $3,999 for 25 clients -- a less expensive solution than Oracle's.
Oracle also has a package solution that starts at $6,767, depending on the platform selected. The Oracle.com suite includes not only WebDB and Oracle8i but also other tools for development such as the Oracle application server, JDeveloper, and iWorkplace Templates, and the suite runs on more platforms than the Microsoft solution does.
This can be a good solution if you are a start-up or a small to mid-size business. Buying these tools in a package is less costly than purchasing them individually.
Much depends on your skill level, hardware resources, and budget. I hope this helps in your decision-making.
Brooks: I totally agree that this decision depends in large part on what infrastructure and expertise you already have. If the decision is close, you need to figure out who's going to be doing the work and what your priorities are.
These two products have different approaches, and they reflect the different personalities of the two vendors. In general, Oracle products are designed for very professional development efforts by top-notch programmers and project leaders.
The learning period is fairly long, and the solution is pricey; but if you stick it out you will ultimately have greater scalability and, I would argue, greater reliability.
That sounds like a pitch for Oracle, doesn't it? But it's not. If your project has tight deadlines and you don't have the time and/or money to hire a team of very expensive, very experienced developers, you may find that the Oracle solution is an easy way to get yourself in trouble. There's nothing worse than a poorly developed Oracle application.
What Microsoft offers is a solution that's aimed at rapid development and low-cost implementation. The tools are cheaper, the servers you'll run it on are cheaper, and the developers you need will be cheaper.
Choosing SQL Server and Visual Studio is an excellent way to start fast, and the package offers a serviceable application with very little expense.
Of course, there are trade-offs. The key problem I have with Visual Studio and SQL Server is that you'll be tied to Microsoft operating systems and Intel hardware.
If the day comes when you need to support hundreds of thousands of users, you really don't have anywhere to go other than just buying hundreds of servers, which is a management nightmare.
If you go with the Microsoft approach, it sounds like you may not need more than Visual Interdev. If you already know that you're going to be developing ActiveX components in Visual Basic or Visual C++, that's a warning sign that maybe you should look at the Oracle solution more closely.
I want to emphasise that, although these platforms have their relative strengths and weaknesses, if you do it right you can build a world-class application on either one.
So if you have an organisational bias toward one of the vendors, by all means go with it. If you're starting out from scratch, you're going to have to ask yourself whether your organisation leans more toward perfectionism or pragmatism, and realise that both "isms" have their faults.
Brooks Talley is senior business and technology architect for InfoWorld.com. Lori Mitchell is a senior analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center.