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Oracle Puts On A New (Inter)face

The new SQL Developer interface, available for download today, offers some of the same graphical capabilities as the vendor's JDeveloper tool.
After a generation of using a "good enough" command line, Oracle has decided to modernize how database users interact with its system. As of today, it's offering a free graphical user interface, SQL Developer, with which to design relational database tables and compose triggers and stored procedures.

SQL Developer will be available for download from the Oracle Developer Network site. It will offer some of the same graphical properties as Oracle's heftier JDeveloper tool, such as selecting a table and dragging it onto a worksheet where its definition and properties are captured by the system. JDeveloper is used in building Java database applications.

SQL Developer is intended as a replacement for SQL Plus, the Oracle database's venerable command line interface "that hasn't changed in the last 18 years," concedes Mike Hichwa, Oracle VP of software development.

Older database administrators will be happy to continue SQL Plus, and Oracle will continue to support it, says Hichwa. But a younger generation of developers and consultants, used to snappier graphical user interfaces, will probably adopt SQL Developer, he predicts. Oracle realized that might be the case when it discovered 5,000 of its own developers were using the tool internally. It tried making it available in beta form on its Oracle Developer Network and found the number of downloads in January outstripped the number of downloads of free developer versions of its database software. Overall, SQL Developer in beta has become Oracle's number three most popular download.

All the activity suggested "there was a gaping hole in our product line," says Hichwa. Oracle continued to collect feedback on the tool and incorporating user recommendations, leading up to this week's release for general availability.

Among other things, SQL Developer will make it easier to compose reports with results from an Oracle database. The aging SQL Plus requires a user to enter all the properties of a desired database table in PL/SQL statements, typed on the command line. PL/SQL is Oracle's version of the standard database access language, SQL. Its new SQL Developer tool would allow a user to drag an existing table to the worksheet and then work with the definition made available as a result, says Sue Harper, senior principal product manager.

SQL Developer will be bundled into the 1.0 release of Oracle 11g, the next version of the database, which isn't expected before 2007. For those who don't wish to wait that long, the download amounts to 35 Mbytes for those already using a Java Development Kit, and 52 Mbytes for those who aren't.