Oracle users are more interested than ever in the competition coming from Microsoft and the open-source community. And they're not that happy with some of Oracle's offerings. That's according to a group which should know - Oracle users themselves.

The findings are from the UK Oracle User Group (UKOUG), which published its latest annual customer satisfaction survey last week. The group has 1,600 members, including several large multi-nationals, and uses the survey partly to lobby for improvements to Oracle's products and services desired by big customers.

The latest results show that recent shifts in the database market are affecting even dedicated Oracle customers. IBM, Oracle and Microsoft, which control more than 80 percent of database licence and service revenues, have recently shifted away from competing just on speed and performance, and are looking to appeal to customers' pocketbooks, as well as simplifying their software. In the meantime, competition has increased from open-source products, which are able to fill the need for simple databases at prices that proprietary vendors can't match.

The survey showed that Oracle's simplification of installation and set up for Oracle 9i Application Server and Application Server 10g led to an increase in satisfaction levels, though customers said Oracle needs to further develop the improvements.

On the other hand, customers are beginning to wonder whether the competition might offer more value for money. The UKOUG noted that customers feel Oracle is becoming more expensive compared to Microsoft's SQL Server, while a growing number of respondents made references to the open-source MySQL database.

The group found that satisfaction levels could be better for some of Oracle's other products. General satisfaction levels fell for Oracle's consulting offerings, the group said, although this is still seen as value for money. Customers felt more confident about Oracle's ERP (enterprise resource management) application - a relatively new area for the company - but a small percentage remained "Unhappy" with the product.

Finally, the group said that customer approval of Oracle support had remained flat, bucking a positive trend with the survey overall. "There are still details which can be addressed such as Support, which is still lagging behind in satisfaction," said UKOUG chairman Ronan Miles, in a statement.

Miles said the survey saw an 80 percent rise in the number of respondents this year, something he attributed to Oracle customers seeing the survey as an effective way of getting their opinions across. There was a particular growth in responses from CRM (customer relationship management) customers, who said they were less confused about the purpose and goals of the technology.

Oracle should be relieved to learn that its core database product received a comfortable 99 percent satisfaction level, with no customers reporting serious dissatisfaction.

Oracle said it takes the survey seriously. "Overall, we are heartened by the increase in
satisfaction levels from last year, particularly with the rise in confidence in our CRM and ERP applications," said Alan Hartwell, Oracle vice president of marketing for the UK and Ireland.