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Thursday, October 13, 2005

What did Oracle and Zend Announce this Week?

Earlier this week, Oracle and Zend announced general availability of Zend Core for Oracle. This is exciting news, yet another sign that Oracle understands OSS and how commercial software can complement open source. Oracle is doing all it can to help developers out there with the performance, reliability and robustness they need. Let me try to shed some light on this announcement by answering some of the questions I have been getting.

Who's Zend anyway?
Zend is really the PHP company. They have Andi Gutmans and Zeev Suraski on their payroll, they are Zend's founders and also the original developers who helped PHP founder Rasmus Lerdorf rewrite a new PHP parsing engine in 1997. Andi and Zeev created the very popular open source Zend Engine. Zend's products are used by 8,000 companies worldwide including Lufthansa, Avaya, Sprint, HP and Boeing.

What's Zend Core for Oracle?
Zend Core for Oracle provides out-of-the-box IT organizations with a stable, high performance, easy-to-install and supported PHP development and production environment fully integrated with the Oracle Database. Without Zend Core for Oracle customers had to download all the pieces individually (Apache server, PHP, Oracle DB…) and cobble it all together. This was a very tedious, unpredictable experience that serious enterprises did not want to go through. Zend Core for Oracle is a one stop shop where you get one install file and you know it's going to work and if god forbid, it doesn't you get support from Zend (for PHP-related issues) and Oracle (for database-related issues). Safe feeling, isn't it?

Why should I care? LAMP is FREE!
This is the most frequent question and the answer is very simple. If free was the only criterion, then why is Geronimo not everywhere and why is Oracle still showing strong DB and application server sales, etc.? The truth is, people care deeply about more important things. We worked with Zend to do this because their customers as well as ours wanted us to deliver a solution like Zend Core for Oracle. There are 18 million websites out there written in PHP, scripting languages are too popular today for Oracle to ignore them. Zend is the leader in PHP deployments. It's also important to note that 25-30% of their customers run on Oracle (not all of them are LAMP worshipers). Oracle and Zend noticed that many already had their data in Oracle databases when they started using PHP to write web application. They enjoyed the quick turnaround and easy to deploy experience they got out of PHP. Others come from the LAMP stack and want more stability, performance, security and reliability and moved to Oracle DB. Also organizations with a significant investment in Linux and Oracle now have the option to deploy PHP apps on top of these databases and worry less about the issue of drivers then they may have seen in past. Zend Core for Oracle delivers an updated PHP OCI8 driver, which both companies have worked hard to make more reliable and stable for Oracle Database-driven Web applications.

Have you heard of OPAL? Well it's an acronym just like LAMP but it stands for [Oracle, PHP, Apache and Linux]. Believe me, it is more popular than you think. Zend Core for Oracle is an OPAL system - technically an OPA, it also runs on IBM AIX, Sun Solaris and Windows (currently still in beta).

Bottom line: The real challenge for open source software is to provide the ease of use and a clear chain of accountability that IT organizations require for mission-critical systems. Zend Core is a good answer to that.

What happened to Oracle's commitment to Java/J2EE?
Today, you cannot think ONE language. This is the SOA age. Web services don't care what flavor the portal or the back-end business or persistence logic is written in? We don't need to pick a winner, we support open standards and interoperability. Also, we make sure we keep our finger on the pulse. Scripting languages particularly PHP are very popular, our customers use them, therefore we need to provide them with a pleasant/seamless experience to their job. We are more committed to Java/J2EE than ever, our app server is the fastest growing J2EE container in the market, our tools support the latest Java and J2EE specifications as soon as they are out (and most of the times before – EJB3.0 basis or RI in Glassfish for example).
PHP is actually interoperating quite nicely with Java on various levels. First we have been supporting PHP for 2 years in the Oracle application server. One can write a PHP page and deploy the HTML file on the Oracle container and it will be parsed and rendered seamlessly. Second, PHP5 (unlike PHP4) has great support for SOAP, this means Java can call PHP-based web services and vice versa. Also using BPEL PM, users can orchestrate Web services such that PHP-based partner links can call Java-based services. Finally there is a JSR we are planning to support as soon as it’s ready. It's JSR-223, Oracle and Zend are part of the expert group. It essentially allows Java to call scripting languages and vise versa. With all this in place in the Oracle stack, people could rapidly write PHP pages (if they choose not to use JSF or they already have existing PHP code) and easily talk to back-end business logic written in Java that makes DB calls.

OK, I'm interested where do I start?
I recommend the PHP technology Center on OTN (Oracle Technology Network). In there you'll find a bunch of links to useful resources including upcoming events, installation guides, articles, blogs, best practices and last but not least a link to download Zend Core for Oracle. Zend also has a page on their website specifically for people who are interested in Zend Core for Oracle: Finally I will be speaking at OSCON next week on this topic. So if you're planning to be there, feel free to drop by the Oracle booth and ask all the questions you want. If you are in the bay area I highly recommend attending the Zend/PHP Conference. Definitely check out Oracle's Ken Jacobs (aka Dr DBA) who will talk about Zend Core for Oracle and the relationship between Zend and Oracle.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Microsoft Befriends Foe and Takes Aim at iTunes

Yesterday (10/11/05) Apple announced record numbers and amazing profits. A third of Apple's revenue comes from iPod sales. So Apple takes the music/media business very seriously. Today Steve Jobs unveiled a new video iPod along with a new complementary version of iTunes that allows people to buy music videos. To top all this Walt Disney and Apple Computer have reached an agreement under which ABC and Disney Channel television shows will be available for download from iTunes for $1.99 per episode. Apple is clearly on a media roll.

All this is beautiful, Right?

Not really. Microsoft astutely chose this moment to settle its problems with RealNetworks in a two-part deal under which Microsoft pays $460M in cash to RealNetworks to settle the antitrust claims and $301M in cash to support RealNetworks' music and games efforts. Microsoft will recoup money by earning credits (amounts were not disclosed) for each Rhapsody subscriber referred through MSN. RealNetworks will support MSN Search and Microsoft will be a huge channel for RealNetworks music and also assist in the performance of RealPlayer on Windows. Here is another big win for RealNetworks: users of MSN Messenger will be able to play music from the Rhapsody catalog of 1 million songs while chatting. More details on this deal can be found here.

Bottom line:
Apple has iTunes the leading online music store, as well as iPod the leading digital music player. I hate to say it but the benefit of the M$FT/RealNetworks alliance is interoperability and openness. The truth is that Apple's strategy is based on customer lock-in (in fact I am one of those locked-in customers). Apple does all it can to make sure people who buy music via iTunes play it on the iPod. Can they continue to do this and maintain market leadership? Microsoft and RealNetworks beg to differ. Let’s see how all this media business unfolds and what role will Yahoo and AOL play in this battle. So stay iTuned... or not.

Geronimo is Certified

IBM's acquisition of Gluecode (read main contributors behind the Apache Geronimo project) is clearly giving a shot in the arm to Apache's J2EE application server. Apache Geronimo is now officially J2EE 1.4 certified. It would be interesting to see how this application server will hurt JBoss' growth. Although Geronimo is not nearly as mature or as popular as JBoss today, there are two things that could change that:

- First, IBM wants JBoss dead and they are putting the necessary resources behind Geronimo to improve it and close the gap with JBoss and I have to say they are showing frequent and rather fast progress.

- Second Geronimo is licensed under the Apache license which has less strings attached than LGPL (JBoss' license). LGPL, though not as "viral" as GPL, gets IT managers pretty nervous about its arguably blurry/open_for_interpretation implications. Some think LGPL still places too many requirements on organizations who modify and redistribute the code (check this thread out).

Bottom line: Geronimo joined JBoss and JOnAS (both LGPL) as fellow open source J2EE 1.4 certified servers. IMO, while J2EE certification helps ensure compatibility and interoperability, it doesn't necessarily make an app server enterprise ready. Here is the official list of certified app servers. Please share your thoughts as to how you think this OSS app server battle will play out.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Is this really it for Firefox?

I hope not!

It would be very sad if the only window on the WWW was IE courtesy of M$FT; wouldn't it? I read this InternetWeek article yesterday that provides some fresh statistics. It shows that Firefox is not growing; it is in fact loosing ground to competition dropping from 8.27% the month before to 7.55%. Internet Explorer is pretty much steady at a solid 86%. I couldn't believe the numbers were still this high for IE when everyone I know including my parents use Firefox. The truth is I live in Silicon Valley and all my friends are computer savvy. I guess it is not a representative sample of the world's internet surfers. Late last month, Opera announced its decision to strip out ads from its free browser, but it's a bit too late. It seems that there is a group of people who wanted something else than IE, they all jumped on Firefox by now. The result is that Opera couldn’t grab more than 0.5% of the market.

Last week HP announced it was going to preinstall Netscape on all HP and Compaq machines starting early 2006. This is good news. For those who don't know yet, Netscape 8 is based on Firefox, but it lets users switch between both the Firefox and IE engines. Many Web sites have been built to work with IE, so supporting both the Firefox and IE engines gives Netscape users additional compatibility. Today Netscape's share of the market is still under a poor 2.5%. Let's see if HP's decision to distribute Netscape will drive this number up and by how much. It would be interesting to find out how many Netscape users stick with the Firefox engine and how many switch to the IE engine.

Also interesting to note that the battle between Microsoft and open source shows completely different results on the web server side. I looked at the latest statistics on Netcraft this month; Apache servers dominate the market with 70% market share and growing while Microsoft is stuck at 20%.

It's also sad to see hackers attack Firefox's marketing website ( which is being rewritten from scratch as we speak to increase security. How stupid do you need to be to take that site down? I will buy a Firefox T-shirt as soon as I post this entry to support the Firefox crew! They are only $14 and they look cool.