I was thinking about this as I drove to work this morning: what is the real business value to Oracle of buying Sun ?

It occurred to me that part of the many benefits to Oracle are the products that help them compete better with the Microsoft offerings. Could this be another in a long line of acquisitions by Larry Ellison in his quest to make Oracle a more successful company than Microsoft ?

Microsoft has owned this market for some time now, and has had some tools that Oracle has tried to compete with over the years. Microsoft had Access, which is at a surface level a database, but has over the years served much better as a front-end tool for database access. Oracle has tried to  address this over the years, first with Oracle Forms, then with JSF and ADF, and now APEX (formerly known as HtmlDb).

These tools, while extremely capable, have never had the low entry to use that has been available in the Microsoft product line, and now with the rapid introduction of Silverlight, Microsoft is threatening to dominate the RIA market.

There is tremendous buzz (hype?) in the market about the RIA competition, with both Adobe and Microsoft claiming a market penetration of over 70%. Sun has similar figures with Java, and has recently entered this market full force with JavaFX.

JFX combined with MySQL looked to have the potential for introduction of new products that would displace both the rich media and rich data driven applications that have been dominated by Flash (Flex).

With the acquisition of Sun by Oracle, it is entirely possible that a solid Flex and Silverlight competitor could emerge due to the capabilities of the Java platform for producing UI, combined with the simplification in coding provided by JavaFX. This could also give rise to an easy to use tool that could replace Access as the easiest way to build an application, by integrating the JavaFX UI capabilities with the Oracle developer tools.

The only missing piece in this puzzle for me is that focus on the end user as being capable. Oracle has great tools for developers, and they help build applications extremely easily, but they haven’t done a great job with figuring out how to bridge the gap between the technical types and the consumers. I don’t think it’s a vast chasm to cross, but they would need to focus on improving the ease of use to compete head to head with Microsoft and Adobe.

Not only does the Sun acquisition continue to strengthen the web tools that Oracle has recently improved with their WebLogic tools, expand their hold in the database market, and solidify their place in the SOA market, but it also allows them to compete better in the hottest area of competition at the moment: Rich Internet Applications.

What will Oracle do with these capabilities ? Only time will tell.

Recently I’ve been doing some web page work again, and trying to push the envelope on my CSS knowledge.

I was at a talk at 360|iDev where Brian Fling was talking about UI design, and he pointed out that your site should work without your CSS. Now while I know this as a design principle, it seems like something that we probably overlook more often than not.

So, out of curiosity, I thought I’d take a look and see what some of my pages look like without their stylesheets applied.

The first trick is Firefox with Firebug.

Firebug is a plugin that lets you debug and examine the contents of a page and do very interesting things, like modify your page on the fly. By loading up Firebug on one of my sites, it was an easy thing to browse to where the stylesheets are loaded. To start up Firebug, I normally just right click on the page and choose “Inspect Element” from the popup dialog box, or use the Open Firebug option from the Tools menu:

right click menutools_open_firebug

Once you have Firebug open, you can browse your HTML to where the stylesheets are loaded (normally in the HEAD section of your page):

Firebug looking at header

The next trick is that with Firebug, you can change everything

In the above example, I have two stylesheets loading: a basic one (basic.css) and one for print layout (print.css). So to look at my site without the stylesheet, all I have to do is right click on the link that loads the sheet, and choose Delete Element:

delete element

Third trick: debugging missing link includes with Firebug is cool

One interesting thing to note, if you expand the link node, you’ll see the complete style sheet as it was downloaded from the server. I’ve found this very handy in finding issues like a typo in a stylesheet name, or a misconfigured server (which is very easy to happen with frameworks like Cake), since what displays is the actual return from the server (so for instance if you mispell the name, you’ll see the actual 404 file missing):

404 error

Once you’ve removed the link (or even change the name to a bad one as I did above), you’ll see your bare bones HTML, just like it would appear to a browser without styles. If your page was designed correctly, it should have basic navigation links at the top of the page instead of the menu bars, which make the site usable for a browser that isn’t using your stylesheets.

Jc no style

Next: starting a new page so that it works with and without style …