Oracle has stressed its commitment to Apex, the day after releasing version 2.2 of the free Web development tool.

The company chose to contrast Apex with Web DB, an earlier tool along similar lines to Apex, which the vendor effectively drove to an early grave by ceasing to enhance it.

Apex was previously called HTML DB and makes it easier for Oracle users with limited programming experience to build, deploy and manage secure Web applications with information contained in Oracle databases.

HTML DB began life in February 2004 when version 1.5 debuted. Apex 2.2 marks the fourth release of the software, said Mike Hichwa, vice president of software development at Oracle, who was heavily involved in the design of both Web DB and Apex. "Oracle never killed Web DB; they never enhanced it," Hichwa said. "We created a new product, Apex. There was a broken lineage, it was dropped, then picked up again. I apologise to users. We don't plan on doing that again."

Someone who agrees is Sumner Technologies consultant Scott Spendolini, who quit the vendor's tools division to set up his three-person IT consultancy based on Apex. "Web DB was a good first try," Spendolini said. "They had the opportunity to do it again and take the lessons they'd learned." Apex is more secure than Web DB and allows users to build applications, not just components that they then have to glue together by writing a lot of code, he added.

The main new feature in Apex 2.2 is its ability to package all the tables, statements, style sheets and artwork needed to run an Apex application into a single file. That capability should make it easier for users to install such applications since they'll only need to access one file and are helped through the installation process by software wizards.

Oracle developed Apex in-house with the exception of the JavaScript Editor, which it outsourced to Dutch company Q42, Hichwa said. Oracle owns all the Apex code.

Looking ahead to Apex 3.0, planned for summer 2007, Oracle is working on a tool to automate migration from applications based on Microsoft's Access database to Apex. There will also be increased Ajax support throughout the tool. "It's a chicken-and-egg situation," Hichwa said. "If you go out too leading-edge on Ajax, you lessen the number of browsers that can support", so Oracle is looking to strike a balance between strong Ajax support and what browsers Apex can support.