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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Oracle Corp risks slipping further behind leading application server rivals and failing to broaden its product appeal to customers, after losing a self-imposed race for Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) 1.3 certification against BEA Systems Inc.

Redwood Shores, California-based Oracle failed to achieve J2EE 1.3 certification for the latest version of 9i Application Server (9iAS), launched in December, ahead of BEA, which last week launched WebLogic Server 7.0. 9iAS is still undergoing certification tests with no date set for completion.

Failure is made all the more painful as it was company chairman and chief executive officer Larry Ellison who committed Oracle to a race last year.

During his high-profile JavaOne keynote speech in June 2001 Ellison told BEA's co-founder David Coleman: "Lets have a race to see who gets to 1.3 first."

The absence of certification, though, will do more than just harm Ellison's ego. It will damage Oracle's attempts to increase its single-figure share of the J2EE application server market against rivals currently driving the market.

IBM is also among vendors to achieve early certification in J2EE 1.3.

While Java vendors can - and often do - deliver products that implement elements of a given J2EE certification ahead of final certification, customers effectively receive an unfinished product. "[Certification is] one of the things people ask for," said BEA senior director of product management Byron Sebastian.

Certification for J2EE 1.3 is critical for vendors who wish to embrace web services. The specification, finished in November 2001, provides basic XML parsing, and includes container managed persistence for interoperability of Enterprise Java Beans (EJBs) and asynchronous communication for reliable service.

Now is a crucial time for application server vendors to support such features as customers assess critically whose product to standardize on. Web services support is a key part of that decision, as application servers become part of organizations' infrastructure.

There is more pressure on Oracle than other J2EE vendors, though. Company chief financial officer Jeff Henley last month called 9iAS as Oracle's "biggest revenue opportunity for 2002" and executives insist it has won business from both BEA and IBM.

On Friday, though, the company's financial fortunes seemed irretrievably tied to databases and large e-commerce suites. Henley announced the third-quarter revenue had come in under expectations - flat. Software sales and operating income were the same as its second quarter, Oracle's worst performance in a decade, as organizations postpone spending on large software systems. Ellison said an increase in sales of software in Europe and the US was offset by a slowdown in Asia for the quarter.

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