Oracle aims to lock in low-end users

BusinessWeek and VNUnet reported that Oracle is offering a free version of its database for low-end users. Some VNUNet excerpts:

Oracle is developing a free version of its database designed to lock in low-end users. The company released a beta of Oracle Database 10g Express Edition on Monday as a free download which can be freely distributed as an embedded database. A final version is scheduled for availability later this year. The application is essentially a scaled down version of the enterprise grade Oracle Database 10g. The software is available only for Linux and Windows, and storage capacity for databases is limited to 4GB. It will not use more than 1GB of memory.

Business week says:

Yesterday, Oracle launched a volley in the opposite direction: A scaled down, free version of its database. Is it a reaction to MySQL’s growing success? Yes and no. Oracle spokespeople said so unequivocally in this CNET story. But later when I talked to Willie Hardie, vice president of marketing for Oracle’s database, he downplayed it.

The battle here isn’t really over small businesses who want free databases; it’s over developers. Since MySQL can be downloaded for free, it was building a formidable base of in house coders and hobbyists who downloaded the database, played with it, and built applications on top of it. The last thing Oracle needs is more coders who know the ins and outs of MySQL, and not Oracle. With this release, Oracle is effectively saying, “Hey, developers! Us too!”

So what does this mean for healthcare IT applications? It means that Oracle may be able to lock in developers for low or no cost and when you build or purchase applications whose needs grow beyond their original expectations you’ll get slammed with some pretty big bills. The free embedded database model is great for Oracle, great for developers, but potentially a problem for customers. If your developers end up choosing Oracle instead of a free database like MySQL initially, be sure the code is portable across databases so that if money becomes an issue you’re not locked in.

Given that most healthcare IT apps are still written in languages like MUMPS (Cache) and are not in relational databases there shouldn’t be much to be concerned about right now. However, relational databases are growing in use by leaps and bounds so it’s something to keep an eye out for at least.

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