Thursday, 15 March 2012

On Oracle's statement of direction for Forms & Reports

For anyone that may have missed it, Oracle announced their current statement of direction for Oracle Application Development Tools - Statement of Direction: Oracle Forms, Oracle Reports and Oracle Designer

Statements of direction (SOD) can be fascinating reads, here is the current one for Oracle Application Express, and my thoughts on the 4.2 & 4.1 documents.

As a former (and sometimes current) Forms developer, I read this one with interest as it pertains to the pending 12c offering from Oracle.

The product strategy still oozes SOA and Fusion Middleware, but I found some interesting snippets:

Oracle has no plan to discontinue support of Oracle Forms

Which is great - as mentioned a few paragraphs earlier:
Oracle recognizes this considerable investment and remains committed to the long-term support of these product. 
It's as ubiquitous as Cobol, which fed a few jokes in the twitter world.  While there is no rush to move forward with your Forms applications, you might be up for more pain the longer you leave a plan to move on. I've worked in environments where Cobol is still around, and while the paradigm difference is a little more vast, it can make for massive migration projects.

Oracle’s strategic reporting solution is now BI Publisher

That's a shame in a way, perhaps I'm being nostalgic, but Oracle Reports was an awesome product. Reporting solutions still seem to remain a massive question mark for some sites, at least indecision on the best solution for the relevant environment. The cost seems to scare many away from using BI publisher, I guess especially when you compare the free Application Express product side-by-side. For comparison, I wouldn't like to estimate how much investment the infrastructure is for Oracle Reports, but it might be a middle-term solution for some as they migrate the application base away from Forms to ADF or Apex.

Protect the investment you have in your existing technology by upgrading to the latest release

Please do, I've been working in multiple sites still on 3.x and it's frustrating. Not only for the developer, but for what we can efficiently provide to make the application UI friendly. The same goes for your database, and of course with your Forms environment. There haven't been too many new features since Forms 6i, however advancements have been made to support newer hardware, operating systems and interfacing back to the database.

Oracle Designer 10g was the last version of this product

Move on people. I was never a big designer user - I had the pleasure of using Headstart once, but the universe has evolved. Among other options, there is SQL Developer Data Modeler.

On Oracle's recommendations for migrating from Forms and Reports, they first place your environment in context.

If you need to integrate with Fusion Applications; have extensive business rules & UI logic within the application; general preferences to Java/JEE (among others) => then move to Oracle JDeveloper with ADF.

If most of your application logic is within PL/SQL; most of the processing is within the database, and you don't favour Java => then move to Oracle Application Express.

(On a side note, Chris Muir has a good post answering the question on how much Java is needed for ADF)

It seems the two common, major factors in this decision are
1) The scale of your project and size of your team
2) Your infrastructure & processing requirements

I'm not sure I'm really convinced on the first point. I've never been involved in a JDeveloper project, however I have been in a few small & large Forms projects. I think it really depends on the application you need to build and the team you have.

For me, the most important factor is the infrastructure you currently have, and where you want to go with that. Commenting any further is tough because most of my concentration goes into development. I do listen to what those in the know have to say, though - and it seems to be key to their decision making.

Second to that, though, understanding of the capability of both products is essential. A recent discussion with someone that had little knowledge of Apex (and they are still on 3.1) had them well inside the JDeveloper fence, likening the capability of "dinky" Apex to something like MS Access.

I'm not about to defend Apex as a product, and say it's the only destination out there for migrating away from Forms - but choose the right tool for your job at hand. Chris' blog title hits the nail on the head - one size does not fit all.

Arm yourself with the right information before deciding how/where/when to move away from Forms.  Talk with people that have been involved in both types of projects; talk with experts in the relevant areas; find out the capabilities of each product; consider the infrastructure you have & the status of your databases; & consider the team of developers you already have.

And most importantly, don't forget your users. At the end of the day, they're the ones that need to use what you build, and the workflow of the application needs to suit them. Web pages can get pretty clever these days, but your are still constrained to that browser environment. Do you they need more than what a browser can provide?

Finally, take anything your local Oracle sales rep has to save with a few grains of salt ;-) I'll re-iterate a previous point - talk with the experts, the grunts in the field who are familiar with the capabilities of each product and then re-think about the big picture.

That's my 5 cents.
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