Oracle gathered partners, customers and press on Wednesday to hail major new versions of all five application sets in its software lineup.
Oracle E-Business Suite 12, PeopleSoft Enterprise 9, Siebel CRM 8 and JD Edwards EnterpriseOne 8.12 have recently shipped, and JD Edwards World A9.1 is due out later this year.
"We've been defying the critics," Oracle President Charles Phillips said at a launch event in New York. "Most companies in our industry would be happy to get one release out on time. We did five."
The widely expected updates fulfill the promise Oracle made before closing its contentious PeopleSoft acquisition two years ago: that it would continue developing its acquired applications and meet its road maps for next-generation releases.
"Applications Unlimited" is Oracle's slogan for its pledge to continue enhancing and supporting its various applications lines for as long as customers require. The Redwood Shores, Calif., company has promised eternal support on current applications and plans at least one more major release for each application family before it launches its new, converged Fusion applications line in 2008.
Chris Rapp, executive vice president of business development at Apex IT, a Minneapolis-based systems integrator, said that at least as far as PeopleSoft is concerned, Oracle has held up its end of the deal in providing real upgrades.
"There's some real value there, not just a maintenance release," Rapp said.
The details vary by module and by industry, but some of the highlights in Oracle's batch of upgrades include deeper globalization capabilities, more prebuilt analytics and new integration points for connecting Oracle's heterogeneous products. Oracle also has filled in a lot of boxes on its Linux checklist. The new Siebel 8 brings Linux support to the venerable CRM application for the first time. The only Oracle app that won't support Linux is JD Edwards' World, which remains exclusive to IBM's iSeries line.
And the Linux issue isn't trivial. Several Oracle solution providers said most of their Oracle customers are moving to Linux or are new customers requesting Linux implementations.
"Since Larry [Ellison] made that wonderful statement [of Linux support] at OpenWorld, the whole Oracle business is going to Linux. More and more customers just assume they'll run on Linux," said Mick Gallagher, CEO of LS Technologies, a Fallbrook, Calif.-based Oracle partner.
Oracle focused Wednesday's event on spotlighting the advances in its set of new releases and on providing reassurances that the current lines have stable futures. However, many eyes are focused ahead to 2008, when Oracle is scheduled to roll out the first applications in its Fusion line.
NEXT: What's with Fusion?
Fusion is supposed to bring together all of the best features of Oracle's diverse applications line in a modern, modular architecture. Beyond promising that Fusion will make its debut sometime next year and assuring customers that the upgrade path will be painless, Oracle has said little about what its new applications line will be like.
Oracle recently had a deep-dive session with two dozen top customer CIOs to hash out Fusion details, and it will soon start going public with its plans, according to John Wookey, Oracle's senior vice president of applications development.
"You'll hear more from us about Fusion in the next couple of months," Wookey said.
Moving to the latest versions of Oracle's applications will ease the Fusion upgrade path by bringing more of Oracle's core, standardized middleware components into customers' enterprises, Wookey said. But it won't be required: Oracle plans to enable Fusion upgrades of several of the most recent releases in each of its applications' product lines.
Channel partners generally like what they're hearing from Oracle. LS Technologies' Gallagher echoed Wookey's comments on Oracle's evolutionary approach. Oracle is gradually adding more and more system-level services that tap into all of its applications, he noted.
Gallagher and other partners said Oracle's conservative approach of continuing development on current applications while building a converged application set incorporating the "greatest hits" of each line resonates with customers.
"Their hope is that's what customers will want to buy," said Scott Jenkins, CEO of The EBS Group in Kansas City, Mo. "The 'best of the best' [would be] the HR from PeopleSoft, manufacturing from JD Edwards, analytics from Siebel, etc."
To avoid spooking customers that fear a forced march to Fusion, Oracle is heavily emphasizing its promise to be a good steward of customers' investments. In some cases, partners and customers concede that Oracle is doing a better job than the applications' previous owners. World A9.1, for instance, is a major revitalization of a product that hasn't had a full overhaul since the late 1990s.
"This is a big proof point around our commitment to applications unlimited," Wookey said.
How unlimited is "unlimited"? Pushed for details about when Oracle will sunset its current applications' lines, Wookey said, "At some point, the planet will explode and it won't matter anymore. We'll have fewer customer upgrades at that point."