Oracle hopes to take on Microsoft for a larger share of the market for databases sold on the Windows operating system, according to a senior Oracle executive.

While Oracle's database is known for performance, and its ability to scale, the company has battled a reputation for complexity and high costs compared to Microsoft. That was acknowledged by Oracle president Chuck Phillips, speaking at the company's financial analyst meeting in San Diego on Wednesday.

Oracle 10g, a big upgrade to Oracle's database being rolled out this month. It has ease-of-use improvements that will be attractive to customers with less database expertise, including smaller businesses, Phillips said in a speech that was webcast. It will help make Oracle more competitive with Microsoft's SQL Server database on the Windows platform, he added.

The ease-of-use features, which include reducing the database from six CDs to one and adding wizards for partitioning and other set-up tasks, will also allow Oracle to bundle its software preinstalled on servers from the likes of Dell. "We couldn't do that before because it was too much work for our hardware partners," Phillips said.

On the pricing front, Oracle released a version of its database in October priced at US$5,995 per CPU, or $195 per named user, for a minimum of five users. Called Standard Edition One, it is for single-processor servers only and lacks some features of Oracle's high-end database, which is priced at $40,000 per CPU.

"This is the first time ever we've had the same list price per processor as Microsoft," Phillips said.

He was asked by a reporter later to explain that remark, since Microsoft's SQL Server database starts at $4,999 per processor, about $1,000 less than Oracle's. "All I can say is, stay tuned," Phillips said.

Oracle has spent much of the last year promoting its software on Intel-based servers running Linux.

"It probably cost us something on Windows because we said Linux so much that people presumed we don't do Windows. Now that we have a reputation on Linux we can afford to go after some Windows market share as well," Phillips said.

"We love Linux but there's money to be made here so we're going to go after it," he added. "We have a presence in the Windows market but it should be much bigger. . . There's no need for us to be defensive on Windows any more."

Microsoft trails Oracle and IBM Corp. in the overall database market but its share is growing the fastest, according to figures from Gartner Inc.for 2002, the most recent year available. Microsoft's share of new license sales grew 17 percent that year, giving it 18 percent of the $6.6 billion total market. Oracle's share dropped 20.5 percent, which meant it slipped into second place behind IBM.

Microsoft's growth was helped by cost-conscious enterprise buyers, and by improved scalability capabilities in its SQL Server 2000 database, Gartner said at the time.

Oracle is also working hard to promote grid computing, where groups of servers and storage equipment are lashed together to make better use of resources.

"We're doing some things to proliferate grid. We're taking bundles of database and grid software into the channel. We want this to be a mass market technology, not just a high end thing," Phillips said.