What is it?
By the end of the first quarter of 2004, three different releases of the Oracle database will be in use around the world. In autumn 2003 Oracle announced the newest, 10g, and also extended support for 8i to the end of 2004. 8i users will have the option of moving to 9i, or going direct to 10g.
Perhaps the reluctance among users to upgrade is a sign of straitened budgets - all database suppliers' revenues were down in 2002, according to IDC and Gartner - or perhaps they are taking a tougher stand on suppliers' demands that they upgrade, insisting on being shown good business and technical reasons for doing so.
The g in 10g stands for grid, and the software includes a workload manager and Oracle's Real Application Clustering technology for distributing loads across multiple systems.
Where did it originate?
Launched in 1977, Oracle was the first relational database management system on the market, although relational technology had been developed by Codd and Date at IBM.
Oracle's user base grew spectacularly through the 1980s and early 1990s, and it was the database of choice for many enterprise resource planning suppliers, although Oracle's entry into enterprise applications soured relations.
According to Gartner, IBM has taken the lead in the database market; if you believe IDC, Oracle is still at the top.
What is it for?
The first 10g product released was the Application Server, together with software tools, which was intended to make programming in Java 2 Enterprise Edition as simple as Microsoft development.
The Application Server has been designed for web services, and for what Oracle calls composite applications, which combine functionality from new and legacy applications.
What makes it special?
Grid computing enables organisations to make use of the power of all their systems, rather than buying capacity for each application. Oracle said 10g will allow users to run existing applications on enterprise grids without modification.
However, Gartner warned that grid computing is a visionary idea, and is yet to be proven. In the short term, Gartner said, users should look instead at management enhancements.
"With 10g, Oracle seeks to simplify the installation, configuration and management of Oracle RDBMS, with more preset tuning and fewer configuration parameters," it said.
How difficult is it to master?
Following any of the Oracle skills routes will take four to six weeks of intensive, expensive classroom training.
Where is it used?
The first users of 10g include a French university, a semiconductor manufacturer and the New Mexico department of transportation - a good sample of Oracle's appeal across the board.
What systems does it run on?
NT, Unix and increasingly, Linux.
What is coming up?
A version of the Application Server based on J2EE 1.4.
There are nine Oracle training centres around mainland Britain, and you can get details of these, the courses and certification from the Oracle University website.
There are also CDs and online courses available for self-study. Existing practitioners will find plenty of information on the Oracle Technology Network and independent training is also available, generally of a similar price.
Rates of pay
Oracle developers can expect up to £35,000. Salaries for database administrators start at £30,000.