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Oracle Chairman: No Easy Answers

Oracle Chairman: No Easy Answers

Software: Larry Ellison Addresses Problems and Benefits of New Program

TECH TALK BY BRAD GRAVES

Staff Writer

One can’t expect simple answers to complex computer problems.

That is a theme Larry Ellison, chairman and CEO of Redwood Shores-based software maker Oracle Corp., brought out when addressing customers at the company’s user conference last week at the San Diego Convention Center.

In a talk that TheStreet.com summarized as “a combination sales pitch and handholding session,” the charismatic Ellison acknowledged the difficulties companies face when upgrading Oracle’s elaborate enterprise software suite.

Oracle is talking up its 11i release, which includes software for accounting, manufacturing, supply chains, sales and marketing, human resources, advanced planning and more. More than 1,000 customers are now running their businesses on the software, Ellison reported.

Like all new releases, the software has contained bugs, which have required patches.

For many clients, the transition to Oracle 11i has been rocky.

“Pretty awful” is how a Xerox Corp. manager described the upgrade process in the Feb. 18 issue of eWeek magazine.

“It’s not easy, let’s admit it,” Ellison said to the San Diego crowd. “But we are making it easier.”

He outlined the variety of help Oracle provides.

Ellison maintained that customers should not alter the code Oracle delivers, lest that introduce bugs to the system.

At the same time, he said, customers are welcome to add to the Oracle code to meet the unique needs of their businesses. Oracle software does a lot of things, Ellison said, yet “it’s unrealistic to think that every good idea will come from Oracle.”

“The new mantra, if you will, is ‘Easy to extend, unnecessary to change,’ ” he said.

Ellison also advised against being a slave to fashion.

“If you’re in the women’s clothing business, you have a good idea of how Silicon Valley works,” he said. “Because it’s really based on fashion. Pink is in. Pink, this is the color for this year.”

Ellison made the remarks in response to a question about Web services. Web services refers to the idea that one Web-based application can communicate with another using open standards. Microsoft’s .NET initiative is an example of Web services. Oracle supports the concept of Web services, Ellison said, but he called it “oversold.”

“The idea that Oracle’s going to put a Web services interface on top of its applications and (software maker) Siebel’s going to put a Web services interface on top of its applications, and that’s going to make it easier for you to connect Oracle to Siebel, or Siebel to SAP (software), is the most ridiculous thing I have heard in my entire life,” Ellison said. ” It’s just totally absurd.”

It’s as absurd, he said, as an English-speaking person trying to talk to a French-speaking person, and in trying to solve the communication problem, agreeing to switch from wireline phones to cell phones.

“Now, cellular telephones are a great new technology,” Ellison said. “Fabulous new technology. But if you call someone in France on your wireline phone, and you speak English and they speak French, you’re not going to be able to talk to them. That’s exactly the Web services issue.

“Cell phones are an interesting new way for Program A to connect to and talk to Program B. But if Program A speaks English and Program B speaks French, they still can’t communicate. It’s what are called semantic differences in the underlying applications.” Web services should not be seen as a cure-all, Ellison said.

“I’m really afraid this is going to be the next B2B, the next B2C,” he said. “How many of these do we need in our industry before people finally figure out none of these things are magic?”

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