I can still recall being at an ODTUG conference when Oracle detailed their new roadmap for application development. The future was full of promise, but not our favorite tools; Oracle Designer and Oracle Forms and Reports. No, the future was Fusion; and Java, JDeveloper and ADF were how we were going to get there.
That was the plan anyway.
I don’t know if the decision makers at Oracle overestimated their ability to win the hearts and minds of their faithful, or underestimated the loyalty, determination and inertia of their customer base, but despite their intentions, Oracle Forms is still going strong. Version 12c was released in October of 2015, and an active development team continues to improve the product.
Significant limitations of Oracle Forms and Reports
However, despite these improvements, even the latest version of Oracle Forms has some significant limitations, especially when it comes to the user experience. The look and feel of a Forms application simply cannot match that of a modern web application that users have become accustomed to. Additionally, the prospect of creating a mobile version of a Forms application without third-party tools is nonexistent.
To provide the type of application that users have come to expect, many web applications rely on web services. Among other things, web services allow you to add features to your application without building them yourself. While it is possible to integrate Oracle Forms with web services, the implementation process is complicated and inherently fragile.
There is also the matter of reporting. Oracle Reports still is an option, but again Reports simply cannot compete with the features found in modern reporting tools. Forms 12c allows for integration with Oracle BI Publisher to provide more reporting flexibility and power, but these improvements come with a hefty price tag.
By all of the latest indications, Oracle is now telling us that the future of Oracle application development is in the cloud. Therefore, it is quite telling that Forms is not part of Oracle’s SaaS offerings.
For some applications, providing a rich user experience and advanced reporting capabilities are not a concern. The application does what it needs to do, and has run for years with only minor tweaking. In these cases, the question may not be about modernization, but about support.
Risky business: running unsupported Oracle Forms and Reports
Running a completely unsupported Oracle Forms 4 application may be cost-effective in the short-term but is a seriously risky proposition. The application and the database may represent a steady-state, but the ecosystem on which it runs does not. Hardware must be replaced and operating systems need to be kept up to date. Odds are, that if a problem develops, it will be some external factor that causes the issue. Hopefully, the issue will surface immediately after a change, so the reason might be identified, but all too often these issues only materialize after time, so rolling back a single change does not resolve the problem. Additionally, there is a high probability that your exact combination of hardware and OS patch state is unique, so relying on assistance from the community may not be a viable option in resolving your issue.
Oracle Forms 4 is of course an extreme example, but the reality is that any version of Forms below 11g is unsupported. If you are going to stick with Forms, we would strongly encourage you to upgrade to a supported version. Of course moving to a supported version will of require the addition of an Oracle WebLogic application server to your environment and the appropriate licensing to your budget, as well as the time and effort to do the actual upgrade.
Questions to ask before modernizing your Oracle Forms and Reports app
For applications where a rich user experience, flexible reporting options, and out-of-the-box web service integration is desirable, how do you know when it is time to modernize? There is, of course, no single answer to such broad question, but consider the following:
- Is there a need to integrate with other applications using web services?
- Are your users clamoring for a better user experience?
- Is there a need for a mobile version of your application?
- Do your developers struggle to keep pace with changing business needs?
- Is your application failing to keep up with the competition?
- Are you interested in moving to an Oracle Cloud solution?
- Will your Forms resources be retiring soon?
If you answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, then the time to begin a modernization plan is now. The next post in this series will help you chart a path forward by exploring some of the options available for modernizing your existing Forms applications.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]