Oracle has finally made substantial progress on its Fusion Applications suite, more than three-and-a-half years after the project was first announced, according to industry observers.

Oracle has said Fusion Applications will blend together the best features from its various product lines, which include PeopleSoft, JD Edwards, Siebel and E-Business Suite.

But to date, Oracle has only released a handful of CRM-centric applications based on Fusion technology. And the departure in October 2007 of John Wookey, a key executive on the project, prompted some observers to raise questions about whether it was severely off course.

However, a more significant release could be imminent.

Floyd Teter of the Oracle Applications Users Group's Fusion Council recently got a preview of "what will eventually evolve into Fusion Applications Version 1.0," he wrote in a recent blog post.

The software Teter viewed during a visit to Oracle's headquarters on 29 August was "not a PowerPoint deck of slides, not non-functional or semi-functional prototypes, but the real honest-to-goodness applications. I witnessed execution of transactions, data input, and drill-downs from analytics into transactional detail," he wrote. "Fusion Applications are real ... period. If you read anything about 'vaporware' or 'not real' or 'far from completion,' recognize it for what it is ... baloney."

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"If I were numbering my iterations or versions prior to a 1.0 release, I'd put what I saw today at roughly about version 0.7 or 0.8," Teter added. "But that's strictly a rough, speculative guess on my part, and is definitely not the means by which the Fusion development team is tracking their progress."

Teter's post said the software had a decidedly Web 2.0 feel, emphasising collaboration among workers and embedded analytics.

"It's obvious that the development team took the time to bring together the best features, processes, and lessons learned from the existing application product lines," he added.

Teter stressed that he was not privy to any release dates for the software he viewed.

Forrester Research analyst Ray Wang said that he expected Oracle to deliver some more Fusion applications in the near term, but then spread out the release of core finance, HR, supply chain management and other modules over the next three to five years.

Despite this extended time frame, Oracle has "made significant progress in building the core foundation with an updated data model, improved user tools, new user experiences, business process and Web service enablement," Wang said.

Oracle did not respond to requests for comment this week regarding Fusion Applications.

However, during the company's recent year-end earnings call, CEO Larry Ellison said, "there will be a suite of Fusion applications coming out this year, next year and the year after."

The company may offer more precise details at its upcoming OpenWorld conference in San Francisco. The show, which begins on 21 September, is scheduled to include a number of Fusion Application-related sessions as well as keynote addresses by Oracle's top applications and middleware executives.