What is it?
Oracle is a relational database management system that runs on more than 80 platforms. The Oracle database is Oracle's flagship product: the current version, Oracle10g, was introduced in 2005.
A generic qualification in database technology can be a good foundation for a career, but less likely to appeal to employers than certification from one of the big suppliers. Each stage in the progression from junior to advanced certification involves training and examination fees that can total thousands of pounds.
IBM's DB2 certification is cheapest and simplest of the market leaders. Microsoft, with its regular upheavals between one major release and another, also regularly changes its certification requirements, so staying up to date involves a lot of bother and expense.
The most expensive, however, is Oracle. But Oracle qualifications are also the most marketable, with the widest choice of platforms and employers, and the best rates of pay.
Where did it originate?
Relational technology may have been invented at IBM, but Oracle was the first relational database management system to become commercially available, when a company called Relational Software released it in 1979. Chief executive Larry Ellison and two colleagues took the name from a CIA-funded project they had worked on. The company was renamed Oracle Corporation in 1983. The first version was for Vax VMS, soon extended to Unix, and then to IBM mainframes.
What's it for?
Oracle's proprietary implementation of SQL is PL/SQL (procedural language/structured query language), often used within the rapid application development environment, Oracle Forms.
Oracle insists that it remains committed to Forms and other long-standing technologies: "Oracle Forms and Oracle Reports will continue to be enhanced and will introduce new features in the future versions of the Oracle Application Server. Oracle is already committing development resources that will take Forms and Reports through to at least 2013," the company says.
But the fastest growing development environment is Java/J2EE, which Oracle is supporting with tools and environments like Oracle JDeveloper and the integrated J2EE Application Development Framework.
What makes it special?
Like IBM and Microsoft, Oracle offers an "express edition" of its database, Oracle Database XE, which can be downloaded free for Windows and Linux and used for learning and limited development.
How difficult is it to master?
Oracle has introduced a wizard-driven environment to help novice administrators and non-programmers develop simple applications.
Where is it used?
Oracle is the dominant database in commerce, finance, manufacturing, telecoms and the rest of the private sector, from Boeing and BT, to Egg and the Edinburgh Woollen Mill. It is also widespread in national and local government, police services and other public organisations and charities.
What systems does it run on?
Oracle is available on the widest range of platforms, leading the market in Linux and Unix, and competing with IBM on mainframes and Microsoft on Windows.
What's coming up?
The Oracle 11g database is due later this year.