CEO Larry Ellison has previewed Oracle's next Fusion Applications at the company's OpenWorld conference.

The first Fusion Applications, for sales-force automation, will arrive in early 2008, he said during a keynote address. The company will also release integration packs for connecting the applications to existing Oracle systems, according to Ellison.

Ellison termed them "second-generation" sales-force applications. They're different from other existing sales-force applications that are designed primarily to offer forecasts to management, he said.

Fusion's goal is instead to help sales-people sell more, according to Ellison. "They're really designed not to take the place of," he said. "They coexist with those products."

One of the new programs, Sales Prospector, is a data-mining application that looks at a company's customer database and tells a salesperson which types of customers are buying what products. "It's very much like 'Customers who bought this DVD, also bought this DVD,'" Ellison said.

A company's sales force can then determine good targets for their pitches, as well as find customer references to help close new deals, Ellison said. "That's designed not to help you forecast better, but sell more," he said. "That's business intelligence for the sales force."

Ellison repeatedly stressed that users of Oracle's existing product lines will not be forced to migrate to Fusion because the company plans to make it easy to integrate the new applications. "If you continue with Oracle E-Business Suite for five years, it doesn't mean you can't use Fusion Applications," he said.

Ellison said Oracle intends to support its own database and IBM's DB2 for Fusion financial applications, but no decisions have been made on database support for other apps, such as human resources.

He also trumpeted Oracle's entry into the crowded virtualisation market, Oracle VM, which the company announced this week.

Oracle VM is not only cheaper than competing offerings, it is "dramatically faster," Ellison claimed. "This is a very, very high quality, optimised VM," he said. He said the company will provide benchmarking numbers to prove its speed claims.

At one point, Ellison showed a touch of modesty, acknowledging that no one company will ever fully dominate the applications market. "Even if we buy aggressively for the next 20 years, I think there's still going to be more competition than we can deal with effectively," he said, referring to well-established vertical offerings such as the Hogan Systems banking software made by Computer Sciences Corp.

Oracle spent billions on acquisitions in 2007, ranging from business-intelligence vendor Hyperion Solutions to Tangosol, which makes an application grid. Most recently, it offered $6.7 billion for middleware rival BEA Systems, which was rejected by BEA's board.