This is a very common question that I’m regularly asked in one form or another. The simple answer is that Oracle is committed to the ongoing development and support of Application Express. There are a number of key factors for Oracle’s commitment including the strong community support, the continued uptake from customers, the products standing within Oracle, and the passion of the Application Express Development Team.
The main reason I believe that the future looks very positive for Oracle Application Express is that the product delivers. An ever increasing number of organizations have successfully deployed applications with exceedingly good ROI, due to the very high productivity the tool delivers for developing and enhancing applications. It is becoming increasingly important to very rapidly iterate solutions to meet the ever-changing business demands, and this is where Application Express excels.
One of the big factors leading to the popularity of Application Express is the almost evangelical community of Oracle APEX developers worldwide. The community is very active on the OTN APEX Forum. There are approximately 150 blogs listed on the ODTUG APEX Blogroll. To date there have been over 25 books published on Application Express, six of which have been published in 2013 alone. There are over 130 consulting companies who cover Oracle Application Express consulting services listed on the APEX Community and Partners application. The customer evaluation instance of Oracle Application Express, at http://apex.oracle.com, which we provide to the public, has over 18,000 workspaces and gets over 5 million page views / week.
All of these statistics only talk to the health of the community and the activity, but doesn’t address the passion. One of the great things about being an active participant in this community is how enthused and motivated the APEX community is as a whole. My job takes me around the world presenting at conferences. As such I get to interact with a large number of people, and I’m regularly taken aback by the extensive networking, collaboration, and camaraderie amongst APEX community members.
Application Express is not generally pushed by Oracle’s sales force, and we don’t receive the same marketing, as other “for-cost” products. However, the strengths of the tool have led to sustained organic growth within a growing number of organizations. One of the windows into this is reviewing the support calls, which reveals a plethora of large well-known organizations. Since releasing the Extending Oracle E-Business Suite Release 12 using Oracle Application Express white paper there has been significant uptake within the EBS community. I regularly receive emails from Oracle Sales Consultants who want me to talk to their customer about Application Express. The email will generally say something to the effect of “Customer x has been using APEX for years and they need someone to talk to them about y”. This growth is further supported by the fact that Application Express is downloaded from Oracle Technology Network (OTN) more than 100,000 times a year.
I define “mission critical” as those applications that would have a large negative impact on business operations, productivity, or profitability should they become unavailable to the business for extended periods. I have countless examples of where supposedly “quick and dirty” APEX applications, with only a few pages and/or a small user community, have matured and are now considered critical to the business. On the other end of the spectrum, there are also more and more very large APEX deployments with sizable development communities and company-wide usage. Application Express is viewed more as a strategic development tool than a simple RAD tool for building simple Web-based applications. It is still very much a RAD tool, but gone are the days when the tool is pigeon-holed as only capable of developing spreadsheet and Access replacements. More recently a number of organizations are focusing on establishing and growing Application Express “Private Cloud” environments and communities within their organization, rather than simply building APEX applications. Just last month at OOW, Joel Kallman and I met with Solution Architects from three different organizations about this very matter.
Why is Application Express important to Oracle? When I first started developing custom applications against the Oracle Database there was one choice – Oracle Forms. Today Oracle has a myriad of different development tools to allow developers the freedom to develop using a range of languages and tools, one of which is still Oracle Forms. Oracle Application Express is Oracle’s primary tool for developing applications with SQL and PL/SQL. For Java developers, Oracle’s primary tool is Oracle JDeveloper and Application Development Framework (ADF), but we also provide support for Eclipse and NetBeans.
The importance to Oracle extends far beyond how important it is to our customers. Oracle itself utilizes Application Express extensively to meet business requirements and improve business processes. One of the best examples available externally is the Oracle Store which interfaces with over 10 back-end systems. Oracle Application Express is also tightly integrated into the Oracle Database Cloud Service, whereby when you request a database service you are provided with access to the Oracle Application Express builder environment to define and deploy your applications.
Other Oracle products such as Audit Vault and Database Firewall have integrated Application Express to reduce the number of reports they need to develop. They have replaced 300 SQL based reports with 30 APEX Interactive Reports, while providing significantly enhanced capabilities to their users. Oracle Database 12c Mutitenant allows for numerous Pluggable Databases (PDBs) to be defined in a single Container Database (CDB). The Multitenant Self- Service Provisioning system provides an interface to allow for the self-service provisioning of PDBs. This system was developed in under two months, from inception to delivery of the BETA product, using Application Express.
There is an extensive range of APEX solutions available to Oracle employees. For example, the Aria People application allows employees to search our organizational hierarchy and get contact details for any employee. This application is one of the most actively used applications within Oracle with over 1.2 million page views / day. Applications Technical Services, who are responsible for customizing Oracle’s Global Single Instance (GSI), use Application Express to extend EBS and then feed the requirements back to the EBS Development team. To realize operating efficiencies when we acquired Sun it was imperative that Sun’s operations be integrated rapidly into Oracle. To help facilitate this integration a number of key APEX applications were developed.
One of the key resources for Oracle employees is our hosted internal APEX instance, http://apex.oraclecorp.com. This service has over 2,000 workspaces, with over 12,000 applications, and over 2 million page views / week. More than 20,000 distinct employees from almost every line of business in Oracle use this service regularly. There is a huge variety of applications, from simple to complex, and from limited to critical importance for that business unit. Many of these applications are built and maintained by “citizen” developers.
Since it’s improbable inception, coming out of a skunk works project within Oracle Pre-Sales, by Mike Hichwa and Joel Kallman in 1999, Oracle Application Express has continued to evolve, improving both developer productivity and application capabilities. The Application Express Development Team is very adept at analyzing trends in the IT landscape and incorporating the best attributes of these, such as HTML5 and CSS, into Application Express to ensure the tool remains modern. The continued success of the tool is largely due to this dedicated team that interacts extensively with, and genuinely listens to, the APEX community. To facilitate community input we have implemented the APEX Feature Requests application and established a Feature Advisory Board, consisting of leaders from the APEX community. The board helps us identify the most important requests to consider for upcoming releases. New versions of Application Express are released approximately once a year. We also provide numerous patch sets to ensure bug fixes are available in a timely fashion.
In conclusion, I can’t guarantee that Oracle Application Express will always continue to have the incredible popularity, inside and outside Oracle, which it enjoys today. However, the above should give you confidence that Application Express has a very solid and promising future, and that Oracle will continue to invest in the tool’s ongoing development.