I still remember the first time I used Oracle APEX (HTMLDB) in 2004. I wanted to create a web application to manage associations. We already had an Oracle Forms 3.0 application, but it was not accessible to the public, and the new web applications were more user-friendly and accessible.
My first reflex was to start learning Java, JSP, and all the other components required for Java development. For a DBA and a developer like me with a background in Forms, PLSQL, and a relational database approach, let me tell you, it was not easy. So, I decided to get some training and coaching from a Java expert along with my colleague Patrick Bonneville.
I started to learn object-oriented programming: Java, Eclipse, Database persistence. The whole nine yards. That was a lot of new technologies to understand and learn before even being able to start working on our association management project.
After a couple of weeks, finally, there I was, really happy to display ‘Hello World’ on a page and be able to select some information from the database. That did not impress my colleagues at all. They were expecting some real advancement in our project for managing associations on the web – not a “Hello World” program.
For some reason – maybe destiny – I decided one morning to install Oracle 10G to configure a new database for our Java project. And then I browsed the 10G companion CD that was bundled with the Oracle database CD. I saw something called HTMLDB 1.5. Out of curiosity, I decided to see what this thing was all about. Surprisingly, for someone that had a lot of experience with the Oracle products, it was pretty easy to install and configure. It was up and running in no time.
Once it was installed, my Oracle Forms background helped me understand quickly how it worked. I started building a form and a report, and I could not believe that all those widgets that I had to code manually in Java were already fully available out of the box. I was able to build a web application and focus on the functionality without having to worry about technical considerations. No persistence to code. No widgets to code for sorting. No HTML to learn, well almost. Within a couple of days, I had a fully functional report and form. I was able to commit to the database, update and retrieve data. Wow. Incredible.
My colleagues, Michel St-Amour, Patrick Bonneville, and Paul Farley were impressed by the results. We finally had created our first real web application. And the best part was, it was generating real HTML webpages – not some proprietary program. That was something new in the Oracle world.
ADSUM – Association Management
Shortly after, our association management application, ADSUM, was born. That was when Insum started to grow. We hired our first developer, and as new associations started to use our services, we had to hire more and more people. We were learning HTMLDB and used it for a lot of different complex functionalities like printing PDF reports, linking our application to credit card services and mailing lists. We were also able to have our applications translated to French very easily. There weren’t any blockers or anything we could not do with HTMLDB. It was all very exciting for us.
After a while, we decided to rent a small office space in Montreal. At that time, witnessing the potential of the tool and knowing how many people were still struggling with Oracle Forms, we started to evangelize HTMLDB in our local Oracle community.
I decided to create some training material on how to use HTMLDB, and started to teach it to customers and local Oracle users. Even if I did not try every single features of HTMLDB, everything would always be common sense. HTMLDB was built by Oracle professionals and was always easy to use.
The Oracle APEX Community
Along the way, I discovered the HTMLDB community. It was very active on the Oracle Forum. You could ask any question and get answers from the HTMLDB team on the same day. Again, that was something new and incredibly exciting in the Oracle world. Being part of this community was also a life-changer for me. I was exchanging ideas and working with Oracle people, the ones developing HTMLDB. Wow. Again. You do not see that everyday. This is actually when I virtually met Joel Kallman, Michael Hichwa, Scott Spendolini, Raj Mattamal, Scott Spadafore, Carl Backstrom, David Peake, and all the others – sorry, but I cannot list everyone.
One day, after I upgraded to a new HTMLDB release, a strange bug caused a problem with our translated application. My first instinct was to open a ticket (SR) with Oracle support. But the problem was impacting our production and our application was not working properly, causing some business issues with our customers. Can you believe that an Oracle APEX team member called me to help us out on this issue?! He solved our problem by creating a patch for HTMLDB. Now, that is something I have never seen before and that shows how involved the Oracle APEX team is and how they care about their users and their product.
Days, weeks, years went by, and Insum kept on growing. We were now not only working on our Association Management software, but we also started doing consulting work with Oracle APEX, formerly known as HTMLDB.
Traveling, Conferences, and ODTUG
Being very active in the community on the web, we learned in 2007 of a new conference dedicated specifically to APEX, hosted by the Oracle Development Tools User Group – ODTUG. It was held in Daytona, Florida. We were still a pretty small company, but being involved in the Oracle community and with APEX, I believed it was worth it to go and learn more about Oracle APEX. It was also a good opportunity to finally meet the APEX experts in person.
Once again, my life changed. I made some really great friends from all over the world. I traveled to different places. I started to present and speak at different conferences, including Oracle OpenWorld. I have met some really nice people from the ODTUG organization. I have been nominated as an Oracle ACE, and I even had the opportunity to write a chapter in the APEX Experts book.
I cannot possibly list everyone here but it is incredible to see how many friends I now have because I am part of the APEX and the ODTUG communities. If this is not a life changer, what is?
Insum Solutions and Friends
Insum now has over 80 great employees, and we are still dedicated to Oracle APEX. We work very hard to share our knowledge among our teams, but also with new customers and with the community. There are really great and knowledgeable people working at Insum, and many of my ODTUG friends are now also part of the Insum adventure. Who would have thought that I would one day work with the Monty Latiolais, Martin D’Souza, Jorge Rimblas, and Patrick Cimolinis of this world?
I know that some really cool new features are still being developed for APEX 5.1 and I just cannot believe that it has been 12 years already since I first installed HTMLDB.
What more can I ask for? After all these years, I keep meeting new people, creating cool applications, making new friends, and still having fun. APEX really changed my life and I am blessed for that. I know that it will continue for many years.