For over 20 years, Oracle Forms was the way to build applications that interacted with an Oracle database. This lengthy reign as the preferred methodology led to a large and dedicated customer base. Several years ago, to the dismay of much of this customer base, Oracle announced that Forms would no longer be its flagship development tool. They were honest; the transition from Forms to Java and JDeveloper was not going to be easy, but it would be worth it.
Some Forms customers followed the path that Oracle had laid out and transitioned to Java and the Application Development Framework (ADF). Others, after a great deal of consideration and consternation, abandoned Oracle and moved to another platform entirely. Still others kept the Oracle database, but built applications using one or more of the vast array of products and technologies available.
Then there were the holdouts. Those Oracle Forms faithful who calculated that their investment in Forms was too great to allow them to move off of the platform. In fact, many of these faithful still remain on an unsupported Forms installation simply because their business requirements did not necessitate an upgrade and the associated risks and costs. This is especially true for internally-facing, heads-down, data-entry type applications often found in client-server installations.
For those customers that have remained on supported versions of Forms, Oracle has rewarded them by continuing development and releasing new versions of Forms with improved functionality. Oracle states that by using the current version (184.108.40.206), “you can easily integrate with nearly any modern or legacy technology your application requires” and promises “powerful desktop applications delivered with the easy [sic] and scalability of a web applications.”
Forms vs Web
However, despite these incremental improvements, even the latest version of Oracle Forms has some significant limitations, especially when it comes to the user experience. Initiatives such as the “Oracle Forms Look & Feel” project have made attempts to improve the user interface, but still the look and feel of a straight Oracle Forms application simply cannot match that of a modern web application that today’s users have become accustomed to. Forms’ sibling, Oracle Reports, is also in version 12, but it too cannot compete with the features found in modern reporting tools. For many installations, these are not shortcomings at all, and might even be considered features. Oracle Forms and Reports still satisfy their business requirements, and nothing on the horizon changes that.
However, for many users, new business requirements demand new solutions, and while Oracle Forms does a lot of things well, “new” isn’t really one of them. In these situations, modernization of the Forms application is required. This modernization will typically mean either integration or migration.
How do we get there from here?
Integration involves running a supported version of Oracle Forms incorporated with other technologies and services to provide new functionality and new user interfaces, such as mobile. Migration means moving away from the Oracle Forms platform and adopting a different technology to build your applications. You should not expect a migration to mean simply moving your Oracle Forms pages to a different technology. The unique architecture of Forms makes the direct conversion to another technology nearly impossible. In fact, a direct conversion often is not desirable because the Forms application may not have been kept in sync with changing business requirements. This is why a reexamination of your business needs should be an integral part of any migration plan.
Which direction you take in your modernization journey depends on many variables. Some things to consider are:
- What are the business needs that the new functionality is meant to address?
- Who is the system being created for?
- Is there a need for mobile functionality?
- When is the new functionality needed?
- How will the new systems fit into the existing infrastructure environment?
- Is your development staff prepared for the new technologies?
Oracle is strongly encouraging customers to take a serious look at the “upgrade and integrate” pathway before choosing migration. Oracle provides a great deal of advice on how to go about this process. A good place to start is this Oracle Forms Modernization webinar.
If you’re going to migrate, Oracle’s original strategy of moving to Java and ADF is still an option. However, years after the announcement of this change in direction, customers have been slow to adopt ADF as a development framework. While it seems like Java is everywhere, and we are reminded all too often that it runs on over three billion devices, it is not a programming environment that is easy to master. It is true that most new developers are entering the job market with Java on their resume. It is also true that Oracle Forms developers are a becoming a scarcer resource. Given these facts, the move to Java might seem logical.
However, it is rarely as simple as that. Existing employees have skills, experience and institutional knowledge that is extremely valuable and simply cannot be replaced. Add to that the challenges of a “seasoned” employee being re-trained in Java, and the ADF option is no longer an obvious choice for migration. There is, however, another option that Oracle recommends for migrating off of Forms. One that does not require any additional licensing, and uses SQL and PL/SQL as the development languages. That solution is Oracle Application Express (APEX).
Oracle APEX is your answer
Oracle APEX is a fully supported development platform that is included as a no-cost option with your Oracle database license. APEX allows users, even those with limited development experience, to develop and deploy professional looking web and mobile applications that are both fast and secure. Because Oracle APEX uses PL/SQL as its primary programming language, those existing skills within your workforce are immediately leveraged when creating APEX applications. While there is no magic button to turn a Forms application into an APEX application, Oracle does provide tools to automate as much of the process as is practical. However, as was previously mentioned, because Oracle Forms has a unique way of dealing with data, the functionality of each part of the application should be reexamined to take the most advantage of the new environment.
The modernization of your Oracle Forms installation is an undertaking that deserves long and careful consideration, with the first question being, “Why?” If you have determined that modernization is necessary, you need to decide whether it makes more sense to integrate or migrate your Forms applications. If you determine that integration is the best way to move forward, you must still make sure to be using a fully supported version of Oracle Forms to avoid the risks inherent in running unsupported software. Finally, if you discover that your best option is a Forms-free future, there are still plenty of decisions to be made. Which of the myriad of available technologies is the best fit for your organization? Contact us to schedule a free consultation.