Stick = Oracle Forms or Twist = APEX

Stick = Oracle Forms or Twist = APEX

Oracle Forms was developed in an analogue world and with COVID-19 accelerating digital transformation, now is the time to consider the present, and future, of Oracle Database Development – APEX. It is not going away anytime soon – purely because Oracle want to protect the support revenue attributed towards so many global deployments.

Why continue to pay support for Oracle Forms when it continues to fall behind other rapid application development tools, such as APEX?

Oracle Forms has been a very stable product and is probably the largest middleware
support revenue stream for Oracle worldwide.

Simon Greenwood, Development Services Director

“So what’s your problem?”

I was asked this at a UKOUG Technology Conference in Birmingham. I don’t have a problem with Forms – I am a time-served Oracle Forms developer, consultant and advocate. I am also a developer who works with customers every day, experiencing real business issues with running Oracle Forms. I choose that word ‘running’ very carefully. Oracle Forms in itself is still a mfine product; it is supported by Oracle, is stable and does what it says on the tin. It should be after so many years!

The problem is not Oracle Forms per se. It’s the world around it:

  • Browsers de-supporting Java
  • Costly and complex operational support
  • Costly support renewals to Oracle
  • An evolving user base no longer satisfied by client–server style screens and who judge ‘what good looks like’ against the Googles and Facebooks of mthe internet world
  • Changing business models and consumption behaviour from onpremises implementations to a cloud (SaaS) mindset
  • An ever decreasing ‘Forms-first’ developer skillset making staff retention and new employment difficult and expensive

Whilst Oracle Forms does have a future, it will dwindle over time.

Whilst Oracle Forms does have a future, it will dwindle over time. Alternative development tools such as Oracle Application Express (APEX) will, and are, experiencing huge increases in user adoption and are proving to be the lifeboat-to-the-future that Forms users are calling for when a decision has been made to jump ship.

Oracle Forms cloud service… cirrus-ly.

Architecturally, Oracle Forms is not designed or suited to a cloud model; it’s fundamentally a technology of the 20th century. Take a look at what Oracle is trying to do with Oracle Forms in the Cloud, it’s too little too late and really just a reactionary move to try and make Oracle Forms look part of the Oracle Cloud strategy.

Companies the world over are adopting Oracle Cloud Services, whether this is in a tactical way of creating new databases or strategically transforming their business to a more service-oriented model. If  you’re using Oracle Forms on-premises and looking at either tactical or strategic cloud adoption, Forms will hold you back.

Conversely, APEX was built for the cloud before the term ‘cloud’ was coined. As APEX is a component of the Oracle Database it can be deployed and adopted as a Database-Cloud-Service (DBCS). Overnight you can save thousands in annual support revenue and deploy PL/SQL based applications on a cloud platform.

So what has happened in the last two years …

I have spent the majority of my time working on projects that have been associated with Oracle Forms and APEX and that association is rapidly increasing with a very busy schedule planned for 2018. Since June 2017, I am pleased to see so many more sales and solution consultants talking about APEX as an alternative to Oracle Forms for customers looking to change. This is purely down mto the fact that they can promote the value and benefit of Oracle Cloud as a development and deployment platform, an approach I support for the obvious low-cost and agility benefits I want as a developer.

Do I need to review my Oracle Forms estate?

YES – if you are running an unsupported version. Take action now; please do something!

YES – if you are an ISV whose product runs on Oracle Forms. Most ISVs now realise that customers expect more so it’s time to move with the times. Customer experience is key and Oracle Forms will never attract new customers. Take action now – your competitors are!

YES – if you want to decrease support costs, reduce licensing costs, be more agile, increase development productivity and/or develop new functionality.

YES – if you’re experiencing challenges with operational and technical support from components peripheral to Forms such as web browsers, desktop builds, SSO & Identity Management,
performance and scalability.

NO – if you are already running a supported version, accept ‘it is what it is’, the business will never want more and the business model is static.

NO – if a cloud development or consumption model is not for you.

The list of scenarios is endless, but if you rely on Oracle Forms then review the options you have. The best advice I can give is do not assume upgrading to the latest version is the best and only option.

If you’re using Oracle Forms on-premises and looking at either tactical or strategic cloud adoption, Forms will hold you back.

Overnight you can save thousands in annual support revenue and deploy PL/SQL based applications on a cloud platform.

Upgrade to stay supported

This option has been less common than I thought it would be and is the route I recommend you take if you want to continue with Oracle Forms, but you must accept the limitations and be very clear when it comes to accepting what Forms now is.

Remember, Oracle Forms is stable, but the peripheral elements of the architecture are causing the majority of customers to look for alternative solutions. There will be no new ‘wow’ features of Forms – just mild tweaks and certainly nothing that will make you invest further in Oracle Forms. In summary, if the back office application and users accept what Oracle Forms has to offer then upgrade, but do not hold your breath for amazing new features and or anything that will attract new customers.

Do nothing

I cannot believe there are so many companies out there who still run client–server forms or early versions of web forms. Most companies in this situation have just got used to the reliability of their legacy systems and have forgotten about staying supported.

“It’s never let us down” “I’ve maintained this broom for 20 years. This old broom has had 17 new heads and 14 new handles in its time”

Do something

Many companies don’t see the value in upgrading their Forms system from client– server to web because they see it as money and effort to stand still. The only benefit is actually being supported, but there is nothing in the latest version of Forms that would make you buy into that product if you were starting from scratch.

From my experience, most 6i Forms or older applications have resulted in organisations redeveloping using APEX or moving away from Oracle completely. Web versions usually result in clients staying with Oracle technology: adopting APEX to either redevelop the application(s) in their entirety or complementing existing systems by slowly introducing functional change to stay competitive.

Forms developers can easily relate to the concepts of developing with APEX as they are still using PL/SQL skills. Existing code can be re-used so you’re not throwing
the baby out with the bath water as you would with alternative development platforms.

The biggest obstacle is trying to change the mindset and approach to development: to stop thinking in Oracle Forms terms when it comes to design and build. It reminds me of the ‘Law of the instrument’ …“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

I keep getting told moving away from Forms is costly

There is no silver bullet to migrate Forms to APEX. There is no tool that takes an Oracle Form, migrates it to new native code and deploys it as an overnight success. Be wary of anybody who says it is possible and ask to see a case study. Redeveloping Forms is effort, but the benefits are considerable. Retain understanding and ownership at all costs.

100 Forms does not equate to 100 APEX Screens (never has, never will). A 20-yearold Forms application will likely have a number of redundant screens and functionality – why would you redevelop what you do not use?

Redeveloping Forms to APEX is rarely as big a job as one might think. The hardest task is actually assessing what you have, documenting what you need and agreeing all the dependencies before you even consider redeveloping. Once that exercise is complete, you are ready to determine what the actual development effort is. Then factor in what Forms cannot do for you going forward, take into consideration licensing cost to stay with Forms (database, WebLogic, etc.), ongoing support costs (to Oracle and within your organisation) and the cost of risk (browser support, Java, etc.).

Without doing the above, it is rather flippant for anybody to say redevelopment of Oracle Forms applications is expensive.

Will Oracle charge for APEX

Sometimes I wish they would! If they could, every Oracle sales person would be selling it because it is very popular with an ever increasing customer base from Tier 1 corporations across the globe. It’s now a fundamental cloud proposition for Oracle too and is being used by Oracle mto drive more cloud-native application development with new and existing customers alike.

If you sign up for Database Cloud Services you get access to APEX. If you use the Oracle Database on-premises you have access to APEX, regardless of the edition/version of the Database you use.

You also have a supportive development team within Oracle and a massive community with more content than any other Oracle development tool at conferences annually around the world. Search #ORCLAPEX on Twitter and you will realise how amazing the APEX community is.

 

Conclusion

When the time is right you have a decision to make: stick or twist. If you choose
to stick with Forms, please make sure you’re using the latest version and stay
supported. If you’re looking at alternative solutions remove the emotion and FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) and compare apples to apples – logic will shine through. If it’s time to twist then take a good look at APEX.

The Oracle Forms Inspector

Based on a wealth of historic Forms Redevelopment projects, Explorer have created a tool, The Oracle Forms Inspector, which has been designed to estimate the investment needed to deploy APEX applications.

With The Oracle Forms Inspector, Forms are uploaded and inspected to gather statistics, such as the number of canvases, blocks, items, and lines of PL/SQL.

 

Statistics are used to assign a Low to High Complexity rating, representing a number of development days. The metrics used to size each form can be tuned for each Project.