This latest release of Oracle's Internet database was made available to users through the company's early access programme at the beginning of this week.
Gary Pugh, director of 9i marketing at Oracle, said the company had focused on four key areas with the new release.
The first is supporting XML. Microsoft has made XML core to its SQL Server database, and Oracle has responded by building XML support direct into the database.
Earlier versions of the Oracle database stored XML as "binary objects" (unstructured data), but Pugh said 9i Release 2 took this support a step further, allowing business to query the XML as structured data.
The second improvement is bundling support for online analytical processing (OLAP) and data marts, a technology previously available on the rival Microsoft SQL Sever and IBM DB/2 platforms.
Pugh said Oracle has also attempted to simplify database management with the new release by providing self-tuning applications. This was one area that industry analysts found the simpler Microsoft SQL Server product particularly strong.
The company's aim was to enhance the management features in the database and automate many of the daily tasks undertaken by a database administrator (DBA).
"We see the traditional DBA role moving from database admin to database analyst where the DBA would add value to the business," said Pugh.
The final core feature of the 9i Release 2 is in backup and recovery. In the past, users ran backup databases. The new features to Oracle 9i Release 2 allow database administrators to split workload between the main database and the backup and so boost performance.
Mike Thompson, an analyst at Butler Group, said this facility would be useful where a DBA needed to cover abnormal transaction loads on the database.
Under these circumstances, said Thompson, it would work out more cost effective to use the backup server to cope with the extra load than extend the live database infrastructure.
However, Thompson warned, "This is not a permanent solution for increasing database performance as it affects the integrity of the backup system."
Oracle is counting on the XML enhancements to 9i being particularly attractive to users. They will allow users to store XML objects within the database. Pugh said, "For example, an insurance company could create claims documents on the fly and analyse the claims directly within the database."
Another application for XML is storing purchase orders in a structured format, so that users can see all of the individual components.
Release 2 is introduced at a time when the database giant is attempting to claw back market share from its nearest rival, IBM.
The latest market share figures from analysts group Gartner show that IBM and Informix took a combined 34.6% share of worldwide new licence revenue from database sales in 2001, beating Oracle's 32%. The market as a whole was worth £6bn.