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Oracle Forms

The future of Oracle Forms

Watch our recent webinar: https://explorer.co.uk/oracle-application-development/oracle-apex-for-forms/

Explorer is known in the UK as a leading APEX development consultancy, so you might be wondering why I’m writing a blog about Oracle Forms. Before working with APEX I was an Oracle Forms developer, having used the technology from version 2.3 through to still using the technology today, albeit lightly, with 11gR2. Sadly, over recent years it has failed to keep up with the demands of modern application architecture, aesthetics and user expectations so, like all good things, there comes a time to let go. With the recent announcement of the forthcoming Forms 12c version that time is whole-heartedly now.

As an Oracle Forms developer I am sad to say that when the product no longer makes productive, functional or economic sense then the writing is on the wall and one must find alternatives. To gain a clearer and official view on where Oracle Forms is going with its future direction and positioning I recently reviewed a Q&A webinar that Michael Ferrante (Principal Product Manager for Oracle Forms) gave, which is available to download from the ODTUG website:

Ask Michael Anything: Finally Some Oracle Forms Answers!

The reason why I recommend you listen to this webinar is to hear directly how Michael addresses the questions and concerns of Forms users and, in my opinion, fails to persuade me that Forms has a real future past 11g. I have noted some of Michael’s answers below; in response to some of the questions I get asked on a regular basis.

Before you read these though, I want to share with you some of the issues I have with Oracle Forms and explain why; ultimately, I feel that the product is at the end of its productive life.

  1. Forms has not kept pace with the demands of customers – Aesthetically Oracle Forms cannot compete with modern applications. Architecturally, it is not easy to integrate with other technologies and be “open”. Mobile working on devices like smartphones and tablets is impossible and, finally, developers can churn out better applications in less time with better IDE’s.
  2. Forms is becoming more expensive to support – With dependencies on peripheral technologies that are changing and seen by some as antiquated. Desktop and browser costs and compatibility are also becoming serious issues. Product support from Oracle (often tens of thousands of pounds) is also hard to justify just to stand still.
  3. Upgrading to Forms 12c is more than likely going to cost more than ever before – whilst nothing has been officially announced yet and this is purely speculation I strongly suspect that if one needs to purchase additional licenses for a Forms environment the cost of doing so will be big. Oracle may not be putting Forms “end of life” but they are going to make it more expensive to purchase and support, therefore (eventually) forcing you into a change.
  4. Continuing to deploy Oracle Forms applications within your business does not “future proof” you at all. Forms is a technology that peaked at the turn of the century and since then web 2.0 applications are now running both the world’s leading and emerging businesses.
  5. Oracle Forms had a sibling called Oracle Reports and it was a hand in glove partnership for many Oracle customers. Like Forms, Oracle Reports is officially “not end of life” but Oracle has recognized that they need to keep pace with other reporting tools such as Qlikview and Tableau, therefore Forms 12c will include integration with BI publisher so you have the option of continuing with Oracle Reports or using BI Publisher. BI Publisher is an expensive product, when compared to what you can do for free with Application Express, so all this inclusion is going to do is drive up costs for customers and not get anything evolutionary in return.
  6. Businesses are utilizing the “Cloud” more than ever and organisations that I meet often ask what can be done about deploying their application “in the cloud” to overcome architecture challenges and increasing costs. Oracle’s Cloud doesn’t include any ability to deploy a Forms application and as the Cloud is fundamental to Oracle as “the future” this speaks volumes.

APEX on the other hand is a key component that is perfect for the Oracle cloud and included in many Platform-as-a-Service offerings.

Now onto the webinar…I’m not going to detail every answer from Michael Ferrante but just some of the highlights that relate to my points above…

I am repeatedly asked “Will there be a mobile version of forms”?
The answer to this is no and Michael’s reply could not be any clearer either:

MF – “Forms was only ever intended for desktop data driven applications and has never been considered a platform capable or appropriate for mobile delivery… Forms was intended for back office data entry”

Oracle will not evolve Forms to cater for today’s business demands and deployment methods so if you want to access you Forms application or a cut down version of, on a mobile device – you can’t.

Browser issues – With three tier Oracle Forms environments browser plug-in support is becoming an issue and Google has stated that by late 2015 NPAPI support will be removed from Chrome.

MF – “Regarding new deployment options for the client side these will be features that will be in 12c and not available for version 11… so choose another browser… or choose an older version of Chrome.”

Personally I rather like using Chrome so to be told to use another browser is not an answer that I or the customers I work with want to hear! It also supports my assertion that costs will go up for customers to change browsers and maintain compatibility in organisations with more than a handful of desktop PC’s to support. Michael did go on to explain that there will be some “neat ways” of getting round this issue in future but was also clear that Forms will forever rely on Java. More information about the issue can be found here.

Many businesses have been using Forms for a long time and have evolved from terminals to client/server to a three tier architecture ranging from character mode to graphical user interfaces but the limitations are really obvious now and users demand so much more. Aesthetically Oracle Forms cannot compete with today’s user expectations – what is available looks very bland and old fashioned.

MF – “12c Forms will have the ability to change theme colours”

To be honest this typifies where Forms is today, as there is little that can be done to enhance the user interface to improve the user experience. To be fair, there are other “enhancements” other than just the ability to change theme colours, but none worth mentioning.

Architecturally with Forms it is hard to try and integrate with other technologies.

MF – “Integrating Oracle Forms with web services is not the simplest thing to do but can be done…”

Integrating other technologies and being more “open” is a growing request from customers and they demand an easy approach to the requirement. A complex implementation is difficult to support, costs increase and is more than likely going to be unstable due to multiple components.

From an hour’s webinar the points above were the most interesting to me. Oracle had an opportunity to showcase what was coming in Forms 12c to persuade me that it has a future. Honestly, they didn’t achieve it so I, like so many of others out there, am now thinking “what are my options?”

    1. Do nothing – Become/stay unsupportedSome Forms applications have run for many years without any issues, however doing absolutely nothing is not a good idea. Desktops are continually being upgraded to newer operating systems; newer browser versions and versions of java are being introduced. It’s more than likely that something peripheral will cause an issue with your Forms application, as mentioned previously. If it’s a problem now, it will remain a problem in the future! You have to do something.
    2. Do nothing – Stay supportedIt’s worth reviewing Oracle support definitions, if you are running an older version of Forms, which is on extended support you are paying extra for actually less support so it might be worth reviewing the cost of the upgrade to obtain premier support. If you are going to continue with Oracle Forms ensure you are supported. Moving to Forms 11g and beyond means using Oracle Weblogic application server, check the license implications carefully and ensure you only use what you are licensed for.MF – “You will not be able to run an older version of Weblogic Server than 12c when 12c Forms is released”.
    3. Continue your journey with Forms 12cI’ll try to be positive with this one but I cannot think of many customers that I have worked with over the last 12 years that fall within this bracket. That said, if you are staying with Forms review what the system does, remove redundant code, simplify interfaces where possible and move pl/sql logic to the database. It’s worth noting that pl/sql code developed over 20 years ago will still run without a single change in the latest version of the Oracle Database! In summary, protect your pl/sql business logic by ensuring it’s in the right place. Historically Forms developers crammed as many fields as possible on a screen and therefore a review of screen equity is recommended and usually well received by users.Be really careful and consider the validity of the application and the total cost of ownership to keep it, because you could end up spending money to stand still!
    4. RedevelopFor many customers a redevelopment away from Oracle Forms makes the most sense. If you are considering another development tool then the obvious Oracle options are ADF and Oracle Application Express (APEX). As ex Forms developers we chose APEX and have never looked back, the learning phase is significantly less than Java/ADF and is a very secure and scalable development environment. Of all the customers we have trained at Explorer to use APEX over the last 10 years it’s the Oracle Forms developers who have gained the most the quickest and have provided the best feedback. If you are considering a migration or a redevelopment then having your logic in the database already really helps, a common mistake is trying to replicate an Oracle Form in Application Express. Even though Forms and APEX share the same DNA in pl/sql, the two products are worlds apart. APEX is very productive, intuitive and the product actually gets better year on year! APEX is Oracle’s primary tool for web based pl/sq and SQL development and runs anywhere the Oracle Database does and perfect if considering Cloud deployment. As for Java/ADF – if you want to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on new infrastructure, up-skilling your developers, architects, DBA’s and infrastructure team and then spend 2-3 times as long redeveloping your Forms application that what it takes with APEX, go for it.

Conclusion

At the start of July, a customer referred to Oracle Forms planned new features for 12c using a rhetorical expression that although said in good humour actually does have an element of reality. They conveyed the fact that whilst you can make cosmetic and peripheral enhancements and you can try and integrate with other technologies, the reality is it’s an old technology that cannot adapt for today’s business demands. Lipstick on a pig anyone?

Oracle Forms is one of the best examples of a technology that obtained reliability, productivity and a very large following very quickly, and has been a stable environment for businesses for many years. However, unless something dramatic happens inside Oracle within the next few months, Oracle Forms has little new to offer in 12c and, put simply, there are easier and better ways to achieve more in less time at a lower cost.

This is the right time to evaluate your Oracle Forms applications.

Part 2 and our continued opinion on the future of Oracle Forms can be read here.

Development Services Director , Explorer UK Ltd

Simon Greenwood is the Development Services Director at Explorer. Simon has a long history with Oracle Development tools such as Forms and PL/SQL, and since 2005 he has taken a leading role in promoting Application Express to Oracle customers. Simon is the Co-Chairman of the UK OUG APEX SIG and a member of the APEX advisory board. Explorer is an Oracle Platinum Partner focussed on developing bespoke applications, consultancy and training using Oracle Application Express. Simon’s team of well-respected and highly regarded APEX developers are highly skilled in converting business problems into functional and low cost bespoke systems.

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