Oracle is set to make its visual SQL Developer tool generally available. Formerly known as Project Raptor, the free software will be Oracle's first visual database development tool, according to company's executives.

"My God, it's about time. It's way late," Mike Hichwa, vice president of software development at Oracle, said. "We should've had this four to five years ago."

Oracle's previous database development tool, SQL Plus, is character-based, not visual like SQL Developer, Hichwa said. Developers and consultants looking for a visual database development tool have typically turned to offerings from third parties like Toad for Oracle from Quest Software.

SQL Developer is designed to make it easier for Oracle database developers to carry out a variety of tasks including creating and browsing objects, running SQL (standard query language) statements and SQL scripts as well as editing and debugging PL/SQL (procedural language for SQL) code.

Creating a visual development tool specifically for database use had been on Oracle's tools division's to-do list years ago, but "fell off the list," according to Hichwa. More recently, Oracle's database division picked up the project, resulting in SQL Developer.

The company first started talking about SQL Developer at its OpenWorld show in September. The software went into beta in December and has gone through seven full public early adopter releases since then, according to Hichwa. During that early adopter period, there were more than 76,000 downloads of the tool from individuals in 130 countries, he said.

SQL Developer shares the same code base as Oracle's JDeveloper Java development tool, according to Hichwa. The most recent version of JDeveloper, release 10.1.3, released in February, doesn't support all of SQL Developer's functionality. Oracle made enhancements to SQL Developer after the code was frozen for JDeveloper, he said.

The company plans to keep SQL Developer as a standalone product, but Oracle is also likely to include all of the tool's functionality in the next major release of JDeveloper, 11g, Hichwa said. Timing for the release of 11g is not yet set.

SQL Developer supports all editions of Oracle Database 10g and Oracle 9i Database Release 2. The tool fully supports Windows XP and Windows 2000 operating systems, Linux distributions from Novell and Red Hat as well as Mac OS X, Hichwa said.

Oracle will offer support for SQL Developer provided a user has an Oracle database licence. The company will also continue to maintain the discussion forum on its Oracle Technology Network (OTN) portal, which had previously been the only support for the product.

SQL Developer can be downloaded from Oracle's OTN portal.