Oracle has launched an intranet groupware product called InterOffice, which CEO and chairman Larry Ellison is billing as the user interface that will ultimately make the network computer a ubiquitous household device.
"InterOffice is the primary interface for the NC ... because it delivers multimedia email. Everyone who has email is going to want an NC running InterOffice," says Ellison.
InterOffice, which will ship in mid-August, is based on the Oracle Universal Server and will allow users to exchange multimedia email messages and collaborate on documents through a shared file database. The product will also include application development and deployment capabilities, a calendar and directory service and the ability to set up secure corporate intranets to distribute and track documents.
Because InterOffice is a database server-based product and can be accessed through any Web browser, it can run on set-top devices such as the NC, two-way pagers, PDAs and screen phones, as well as Windows, Unix or Macintosh systems -- a feature which Ellison claims will ramp up acceptance of the NC as a viable product.
"With InterOffice, information on a network becomes just another piece of the World Wide Web. If you know how to use a Web browser, you know how to use InterOffice," said Ellison, speaking at the product's launch in San Francisco last week.
Analysts agree that InterOffice is a long-awaited application for the NC, but aren't necessarily convinced it will be the killer app. "Most NC applications will be database applications. InterOffice is definitely a powerful user application for the NC, but that doesn't mean it will be the only application," says Chip Gliedman, industry analyst for Giga Information Group. However, analysts at the Aberdeen Group believe the product is "six to twelve months ahead of its competitors".
What do competitors think about Oracle's aggressive launch into the groupware arena?
"This looks to us like a quick and dirty revamp of the Oracle proprietary office product because Oracle is trying desperately to position its expensive legacy products around the open standards of the Internet," says Atri Chatterjee, director of server products for Netscape Communications. "Oracle has been trying unsuccessfully for years to take the legs away from Lotus Notes; we don't feel InterOffice is going to do any better trying to compete with Netscape Suite Spot or Microsoft Exchange for that matter," Chatterjee says.
Ellison maintains that Oracle InterOffice is better than competitors' products because the company has done something no one else has by combining the Internet with database technology. He also claims that the database system is faster and more secure than a file system.
The product also features an AI software agent called ConText which can read messages and automatically summarise and categorise them for the user.
Oracle InterOffice messaging server is priced at US$95 per user and Oracle InterOffice document management server at US$395 per user.
Oracle can be reached on the Web at http://www.oracle.com.