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If you have to knock up a web front-end to an Oracle database in a hurry, you might appreciate the newly-released version 4 of Oracle Application Express – or APEX, as it's known to its mates.

Version 4 has been a while coming – it's been in preview since December and the last version, 3.2, came out in March last year. Formerly known as Oracle HTML DB among other names, APEX is a free browser-based tool for rapid development of web interfaces to data in an Oracle database. It's bundled free with Oracle 11 or later but works back to version 9.2.

The new version supports themes, plugins, team development, dynamic client-side processes for AJAX-style interaction without going anywhere near Javascript, and can interact with REST web services. The underlying SQL reporting and charting engines have also been upgraded and now offer Gantt charts and maps which can be rendered in Flash.

The flagship feature is "Websheets", a set of extensive templates for interactive pages with data grids, search forms, visualisation tools, navigation bars and so on, making for a quick way to put together a professional-looking site – at the slight risk of looking rather similar to any other APEX-powered site.

Unsurprisingly, APEX only works on Oracle back-ends, though, so you might have more problems finding a hosting provider than you would for the trusty old combination of PHP and MySQL.

There's a preview video available and even an only moderately painful two-minute jokey promo video for it on YouTube.

Oracle offers an online trial as well as downloads on the Oracle Technology Network. ®

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