Event: Oracle OpenWorld 2007
When: November 11-15, 2007
Where: Moscone Center, San Francisco
What: Oracle's annual business and technology conference in San Francisco is a major gathering of customers, partners and analysts. In part through a slew of acquisitions in recent years, Oracle has grown from its database software roots to become a key player in a variety of business software categories, including human resources applications.
Conference info: For information, go to www.oracle.com/openworld/2007.
Day 4Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Oracle 2.0: In keeping with its push into social networking, Oracle has woven aspects of Web 2.0 interactivity and collaboration into the conference. Most intriguing is the "Unconference" tucked away in a corner of the massive Moscone Center. Essentially, Oracle has created space for conference participants to generate their own seminars. And generate they did, with hourlong sessions devoted to topics including "WebCenter vs. Portal: Let's Discuss Why Oracle has 2 Portals-and Which to Choose?" as well as "The Oracle DBA [database administrator]: A Dying Breed?"
Those drawn to the Unconference were invited to share thoughts on a wiki as well as "mingle with fellow unconferencers."
Count Chen Shapira, a database administrator at computer maker Hewlett-Packard, among the unconferencers. On Wednesday, she was found scanning a bulletin board on which people had slapped their ad-hoc session topics. "It's the coolest thing of Oracle OpenWorld," Shapira said. She said she had learned more at Unconference sessions than at the traditional sessions. Official seminars can bleed into marketing speak, she said. "This is more real."
In a sign of how much Oracle respects the user-generated content world, show organizers even let Unconference sessions take place during the Wednesday keynote speech by company head Larry Ellison. Official conference sessions were scheduled around the time Ellison was on stage.
Dissing 2.0: Michael Dell might disagree with the way Oracle has embraced Web 2.0. After Dell finished a keynote speech, someone at the conference took advantage of Oracle's bottom-up involvement to dress drown the computer-maker CEO. Dell's presentation included a video touting the concept of a "ReGeneration"-in other words, the idea that people of all ages are focused on recycling and otherwise saving the planet. It is part of Dell's campaign to design the most environmentally sustainable computer technology. A more cynical view is that Dell is wrapping itself in the environmental movement as a marketing ploy.
That view came out when, after Dell spoke, Oracle invited everyone waiting for Ellison's ensuing speech to answer a question by text messaging. Answers emerged on the mammoth screen at the front of the auditorium. The question was about integrated computer systems, but one person sent this message: "No more Dell commercials please."
Upgrades can be a downer: It's a common belief that moving from one version of traditional business software to a supposedly more advanced one is a headache. A panel session about upgrading PeopleSoft HR software confirmed that point. Wayne Fuller, application systems engineer at financial services company Wells Fargo, said it took his firm about 18 months to go from PeopleSoft 8.3 to PeopleSoft 8.9. The upgrade didn't make for leisurely workweeks, he suggested. Asked about the top challenges in the project, Fuller said, "It's a challenge to work 40 hours a week during an upgrade."
But participants also noted benefits from moving on up. Fuller said PeopleSoft 8.9 has a nicer user interface. And Massimo Rapparini, director of HR applications at security software firm Symantec, said switching to PeopleSoft 8.9 from PeopleSoft 8.3 means fewer bug fixes. "We have a lot less intensive maintenance," he said.
Larry's world: Among the highlights of Oracle's show is hearing Larry Ellison speak. Described by turns as rapacious, smart and funny, Ellison has been a major presence in the technology world for years. In fact, 30 years have passed since he founded Oracle, and this year's show highlighted that anniversary. The theme also allowed for some personal revelations from the man ranked as the world's 11th richest man by Forbes earlier this year.
During a question-and-answer session after his keynote speech Wednesday, Ellison was asked if he was having as much fun as he did when he first started the firm. Dressed in a brown suit and one of his trademark mock-turtleneck sweaters, Ellison said the initial period was "more stressful," and that today Oracle can tackle more challenging and interesting projects. "I'm having at least as good a time now as I did then," he said.
Software, drugs and rock 'n' roll: Conference-goers, for their part, seemed to have a great time at the rock concert extravaganza Oracle sponsored Wednesday night. The company arranged for multiple acts including Billy Joel, Stevie Nicks and Lenny Kravitz to play at the Cow Palace just outside of San Francisco. At one point at the stage set up for Nicks and her band (which included a guest appearance from Fleetwood Mac drummer Mick Fleetwood), the smell of marijuana smoke wafted through the air, eliciting nervous smiles in the audience.
Nicks got the crowd pumping with her hit song "Edge of Seventeen." Many in the audience were balding or showing other signs of aging. But Nicks seemed to transport them back to an earlier time and inspire a youthful spirit. Near the end of the song, she veered from the original lyrics by saying she "still" hears the call of a night bird.
Day 3Tuesday November 13, 2007
Oracle the great: Last year, attendance at Oracle's signature event topped 41,000. This year the software titan expected more than 42,000 attendees. More than 1,600 educational sessions were planned, and the show features more than 450 partner exhibits and over 350 live Oracle product demos. Kingpins of technology are on hand to share the stage with Oracle's charismatic leader, Larry Ellison. Keynote speakers include Paul Otellini, head of semiconductor giant Intel; Michael Dell, founder of computer maker Dell; and Mark Hurd, chief executive of Dell rival Hewlett-Packard.
Fusion at the fore: At last year's show, Oracle downplayed its quest to blend the best of its business software product lines in a new set of applications. But this year, both Oracle and customers are talking more about "Fusion" applications, which are due beginning next year.
There's been concern about how well the Fusion project, first announced in early 2005, is going. But Oracle has been at pains to reassure conference attendees that Fusion is on schedule. And it has provided some details about the coming applications.
At one session devoted to Fusion, Oracle senior vice president Steve Miranda said the coming software products will be productive, manageable, secure and based on standards. On the productivity front, Miranda demonstrated how Fusion products are being built with "context menus." These pop up when a user "hovers" over particular elements on the screen with their cursor. Hovering over a person's name, for example, will immediately let the user see if the person is available for an instant-messaging chat as well as provide other information such as their phone number.
Miranda also touted "embedded analytics" as a key Fusion feature. He showed how a manager about to request approval for an employee bonus can see how the proposed bonus would affect the budget. Such analysis tools will help employees make better decisions, Miranda said. "It's not a dashboard after the fact," he said.
Despite Oracle's focus on Fusion, some attendees suggest the company hasn't said enough. "Each year [at OpenWorld], I don't get as much information as I'd hoped," said one.
Another attendee said Oracle had yet to provide a business case for moving to Fusion. "It's a technology in search of a problem," he said.
Not everyone is confused about Fusion. Wayne Fuller, application systems engineer for financial services company Wells Fargo, said he is "absolutely" satisfied with the amount of information Oracle has given on Fusion.
On the other hand, Fuller is wary about how Fusion will stack up at the outset. "I don't think Fusion will in two years be as good as PeopleSoft is from a functional standpoint," he said, referring to Oracle's PeopleSoft product line. "Any new product has to develop."