After months of silence, Oracle Corp. is starting to firm up plans for building object technology in to its upcoming Oracle8 database, according to users and analysts who have talked to company officials.
Sources said the features Oracle is promising for Oracle8 include the ability to encapsulate business processes in objects and the ability to link objects via pointers. Along with support for nonrelational data such as text and images, that should make Oracle8 a reasonable -- but less complete -- response to Informix Software Inc.'s Universal Server database, analysts said. Informix shipped Universal Server late last year.
The object capabilities of both databases are aimed at streamlining application development and supporting Internet and multimedia usage. But Oracle has been unusually secretive about the object-oriented aspects of Oracle8. Even plugged-in users said it has been hard to get commitments until recently.
Charles Nettles, director of technology at the Information Technologies division of McKesson Corp. in San Francisco, said he previously "heard a lot of equivocation" from Oracle. Oracle officials "talked objects," he said, "but they really didn't support them" in the first beta-test release of Oracle8, which went out last year.
Nettles, who is awaiting a promised second batch of beta code, declined to comment on the specific object capabilities that Oracle officials said will be in Oracle8 when it ships in June. But he said McKesson's technicians "are much more satisfied today" about Oracle's plans.
Objects should let McKesson's business users "create a picture" of their requirements for the pharmaceutical distributor's application developers, Nettles said. That should result in software "that meets business needs instead of the fantasies of developers," he said.
Oracle officials wouldn't comment on Oracle8. Sources said the Redwood Shores, California, vendor is working to include the following features in the database management software:
-- A business objects layer that lets business processes be turned into objects. For example, a company could develop an object to automatically create purchase orders for users.
-- Object views of relational data.
-- The ability to store text, images and spatial data as large objects in database tables.
-- Pointers for linking objects that depend on one another, plus some level of polymorphism so objects can be tailored for different users.
Informix's Universal Server, which supports a much wider range of complex data types, "will still be ahead of Oracle8 in terms of architectural elegance and range of functionality," said James Pickrel, an analyst at Hambrecht & Quist Inc. in San Francisco.
But Oracle8 should have enough object technology to meet the immediate needs of most Oracle loyalists, he said.
For example, Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse Corp. wants to start moving down the object road but is primarily interested for now in other Oracle8 features, such as database partitioning and improved backup. "It's not like we're an object shop that's crying out for those capabilities," said Michael Prince, chief information officer at the Burlington, New Jersey, retailer.
Burlington Coat installed the first beta release of Oracle8 this month and is awaiting the second one. Oracle's object promises sound good, Prince said, "but the real question is how good a job they do on this stuff."