The release of the the free version of Oracle 11g may still be "a year or two away" according to an Oracle senior executive.

The Oracle 11g Express Edition (XE) won't be released until after the first patch for 11g R2 said Andrew Mendelsohn, the company's senior vice president of database server technologies. Oracle took the same approach with the current 10g Express Edition, according to Mendelsohn, who oversees database development at the vendor.

Some Oracle database administrators believe there is a deliberate reason for the protracted rollout.

"It's an approach that ensures that adoption is nil," said Paul Vallée, founder of the Pythian Group, a database management outsourcing company in Ontario, Canada. "I don't think they're interested in adoption. ... I think they have to have it out there just for maybe a check box, just to maybe say they have a free edition."

Developers and ISVs (independent software vendors) prize XE because it includes many core features, and allows them to prototype, deploy and distribute applications without any licensing costs.

However, XE is limited to 4GB of user data, 1GB of memory and a single CPU, and is available on only 32-bit Windows or Linux systems. Users with greater needs would need to upgrade to a paid database version such as Standard Edition.

IBM and Microsoft also offer certain versions of databases at no cost.

Oracle simply isn't "gunning for market share in the free database segment," Vallée added. "If they were, the strategy would be to release this exactly the way it is and then sell support and commit to patch sets for it."

That is essentially the model Sun Microsystems has used for the open-source MySQL database. Oracle is attempting to buy Sun Microsystems for US$7.4 billion, but the deal is on hold while European officials conduct an anti-trust review.

Instead, Oracle wants lower-end customers to use a paid version of the database, such as Standard Edition One, said Pythian Group CTO Alexander Gorbachev. A Standard Edition One processor licence costs $5,800, according to Oracle's latest price list.

It's unclear how the arrival of MySQL will affect XE, or any other aspect of Oracle's database strategy, Vallée said.