Oracle Launches Free Database to Counter Open Source

Hoping to appeal to smaller businesses and fend off competition from open-source rivals, Oracle plans to release a free version of its database software.

The company has not made it official yet, but the expectation is that by week’s end, Oracle will announce that Oracle 10g Express Edition (Oracle Database XE) will be available for free download before the end of the year.

A Taste for Potential Customers

Oracle rolled out a new version of the 10g today, but did not refer to the free version. The freeware will be aimed at small businesses and at software developers who can create plug-in products. Oracle believes the free software will give users a taste of the capabilities of its products and lead to more sales of its enterprise-level offerings.

The freeware is expected to have essentially the same functionality as higher-end Oracle databases, but will only run on servers with a single processor and with limited memory, preventing it from being deployed in more serious business settings.

In addition to small businesses and developers, Oracle is hoping to appeal to tech-savvy students who want to be able to manipulate data with the freeware.

A beta version of the software is already available from the Oracle Web site. It was not immediately clear whether the company plans to make a major marketing push behind the freeware, but analysts said that was unlikely.

Programmers Wooed

On its Web site, Oracle says the database will accommodate third-party programming in SQL, Java, Windows .NET and other languages. It will run on servers operating on 32-bit Linux and Windows.

Open-source blogger Matt Asay said the release hints that Oracle thinks that the most important aspect of open source is that it’s free, while that’s “just one part of the open-source puzzle. But it’s not necessarily the most important one.”

“My prediction? This move will be completely forgotten,” Asay wrote. “Few to nobody will use it. And, 6 to 12 months from now, Oracle will have to give a real response to the open-source threat it faces. Tossing a lightweight database in front of a fast-moving market that wants free, open, and killer databases just won’t fly.”

The release comes as Oracle grinds forward on its efforts to purchase Siebel Systems, a purchase that many analysts believe may help revive some database sales for Oracle and position it better to be a broader provider of software and services to enterprises that use Siebel’s hugely popular CRM solutions.

More to Come?

Gartner analyst Donald Feinberg said while Oracle is unlikely to give up its proprietary approach any time soon, it may be inching toward a more open-source approach in some key areas.

For instance, Oracle’s purchase of Finland-based-open source software maker Innobase is likely the precursor to an open-source friendly database product.

Feinberg said such a scenario would let Oracle compete with other free database software “with the further advantage of not exposing Oracle’s DBMS source code to the open-source community.”

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