Unclear future for Oracle's Beehive after initial buzz

There will be little emphasis on the collaboration suite at OpenWorld

Oracle gave its Beehive collaboration platform a splashy debut during OpenWorld 2008, featuring it in a keynote by co-President Charles Phillips.

But this year, the buzz has died down significantly. A search on Friday for the term "Beehive" on OpenWorld 2010's content catalog site turned up only one result, and the session in question, which will also cover Oracle's WebCenter, is scheduled for the afternoon of the event's last day, Sept. 23.

This hasn't gone unnoticed by concerned users of Beehive, which includes e-mail, team workspaces, conferencing and other capabilities.

"Given that in the past two years Oracle has gone from painting a 40 foot tall bee on the steps of the Moscone Center to dedicating one half of one session to Beehive, is there something we should know about the future of this product?" one asked in a post to an official Oracle forum earlier this month.

In a follow-up to the forum thread, another poster said he had spoken with Oracle and there is "no doubt" about the product's future, with large deployments scheduled to go live soon and enhancements in the works.

Those details could not be confirmed Friday, as an Oracle spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

Overall, "It's been quiet" on the Beehive front, said Forrester Research analyst Rob Koplowitz, who covers collaboration technologies, via e-mail. "I've been waiting for guidance."

If Beehive is indeed having trouble gaining market share, there's a likely reason, according to Koplowitz. "Probably too much Exchange and Domino out there. Beehive is aimed at the e-mail market first and I think that's a tough place to start."

It is difficult to determine just how many Beehive licenses Oracle has sold, particularly in recent times. There are a number of customer testimonials and case studies listed on Oracle's website, but many of them date to last year or 2008.

Oracle is having better luck with WebCenter, which makes a better comparison to Microsoft's SharePoint, Koplowitz added. "I think WebCenter is defining its place in the market."

Initially, Beehive seemed part of a "major, overarching Oracle unified communications strategy," said 451 Group analyst China Martens in an e-mail. "While Beehive became available, a good deal of the other stuff Oracle was talking about was still in the planning stage and they've yet to make that move. So I'm wondering whether the initial 'buzz' around Beehive got a bit muted because the rest of the big-picture strategy didn't appear."

Oracle may need to purchase more technologies if an overhaul of Beehive is in the works, Martens added.

In November 2008, it acquired intellectual-property assets from Tacit Software, maker of "automated profiling" technology that helps companies determine which workers have which types of expertise. At the time, Oracle said Tacit's IP would be integrated with Beehive.

But in the meantime, vendors like Salesforce.com have moved into the market with products that ape the familiar Facebook interface, Martens said. It's an open question as to whether Oracle would look to do the same, or whether it would need to bring in additional technologies, such as social media monitoring, she said.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's e-mail address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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