Oracle aims at Microsoft with upgraded Beehive collaboration

Oracle Corp. today announced enhancements to its recently launched Beehive collaboration software in hopes of positioning it more strongly against long-established offerings from Microsoft Corp. and IBM.

Oracle also slashed its entry-level price for Beehive by more than half, while announcing prices for a cloud-based version.

Oracle announced Beehive at last September’s OpenWorld conference. It replaces the Oracle Collaboration Suite.

According to independent analyst Peter O’Kelly, Beehive represents Oracle’s fourth attempt to crack the collaboration market, which has been long dominated by Microsoft and its Exchange and SharePoint products, and IBM with its Lotus Notes and Domino software.

Last updated in 2005, Collaboration Suite “failed to put a dent in the universe,” O’Kelly wrote in a blog at Beehive’s launch last fall.

SharePoint, meanwhile, has 100 million licensed users, according to Microsoft.

Despite its late entrance to the market, Oracle’s senior vice president of collaboration technologies David Gilmour asserts that things will be different for Beehive.

“The market leaders are groupware products that have grown up,” he said. “Collaboration was layered on after the fact, not designed that way in the beginning. Beehive is almost the complete inverse of that.”

Gilmour was CEO of collaboration vendor Tacit Software Inc. Tacit offered a cutting-edge “expertise location” platform that tracked employees’ usage to build a profile of their expertise that could be found by other employees.

Tacit was acquired by Oracle in November.

Oracle did not mentione an expertise location feature today. However, new features announced include “Web-based team workspaces,” which include wikis, team calendaring, file sharing and others built with enterprise-grade security and compliance, enhanced Web and teleconferencing, and expanded compatibility with non-Oracle desktop tools, such as Microsoft Outlook e-mail.

Not only can end users employ existing e-mail or IM clients of their choice with Beehive, but IT managers can continue to use Microsoft Exchange in conjunction with Beehive, Gilmour said. That can smooth over one of the difficulties associated with persuading large enterprises that have invested years and millions of dollars in Microsoft or IBM to migrate to Beehive.

Also, while “people hate switching, there are immediate hard dollar savings,” Gilmour said. He reitierated that Beehive, which stores all data in an Oracle database, is more scalable than competitors.

“It is just way better when you’re living in a real database,” he said. “Everything is pretty complicated and brittle in Exchange. With Beehive, there are no hidden, strange 1GB store limitations.”

SharePoint uses Microsoft’s SQL Server, while Exchange uses the Jet database, which some users have criticized for not scaling well.

Oracle previously set Beehive’s price for a one-time license at $120 per user, plus an additional 18% of that license per year for maintenance. In its announcement, Oracle cut the entry-level price to $50 per user. Components such as messaging and team collaboration, however, cost an additional $30 per user.

Companies can also deploy Beehive as a cloud-based service for $15 per user per month with as many features as they want, Gilmour said.