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ODTUG in the rearview mirror

Still recovering from a light jet lag, it is time to look back at another excellent ODTUG event. Although I planned to blog about it on a daily basis, the social/networking activities prevented that... (a.k.a. "I rather drink a beer with some friends and have a good chat, that write another blog post"). So here's a (rather) long wrap up of this fantastic event!

Sunday June 21: APEX Symposium
The symposium, with around 200 attendees, started at 8:00 AM (attending ODTUG is really hard work!). The day started with a sort of keynote by Joel Kallman, followed by 6 presentations of real world APEX applications and was finished off with a Panel discussion. Some highlights of the day:
Joel did an excellent presentation called Application Express: Ahead of the Curve. He explained that APEX is still ahead of it's time and therefore will still gain (even) more interest in the market. Especially because of the high speed development, you can create all kinds of applications with a good ROI (but of course you knew that already...).
Olivier Dupont showed that at Brussels Airport APEX is used for securing the entrance to all parts of the area (a real mission critical example!), even using no (real) browser and no mouse.
Cognera utilizes APEX for their billing solution in the utilities market in Canada (using BPO and SaaS constructions). Martin D'Souza even showed they embedded APEX into an Access application!
On behalf of PAETEC, Dennis Vanill presented their APEX enterprise application using an own framework to intercept the standard APEX rendering in order to minimize the number of common objects.
Jan Navratil showed that the National College for School Leadership uses APEX to support over 200,000 school leaders in the UK.
At Cornerstone Brands APEX is successfully used in their call center to handle thousands of orders daily by hundreds of users. So even a data entry environment APEX is suitable as Paul Davidson showed. Using the new APEX application the call center reduced the time per call and so increased the number of calls per agent substantially.

All examples showed APEX is suitable for mission critical enterprise applications with large numbers of users, even in a data entry environment!

The last general session of the day was a keynote by Steve Miranda. He demo'ed a (small) part of the new Fusion Apps. The UI looked very web 2.0, impressive functionality and animations. Although I wondered if all this visual force is still impressive - and useful - if you use such an application on a daily basis...

Monday June 22
Doug Gault kicked off the APEX part of the day with Performance Tuning APEX Applications. Performance is all about the User Experience. Some free tips: Separate UI (APEX) from Logic (SQL); move anonymous PL/SQL into the DB; use binds; instrument your code; gather statistics (for both application and APEX schema). For monitoring performance you can use the APEX Reports (especially the By Weigthed Page Performance); set the debug mode on; show the #TIMIMG# substitution variable in the region footer; use Firebug and/or set &P_TRACE=YES in the URL.
Next, mister APEX Security himself, Scott Spadafore, covered the APEX Security Essentials. All about the risks of hacking and the APEX answers thereto: session state protection, session timeout, VPD etc.
The last session of the day was more or less the general APEX keynote: APEX 4.0 by Mike Hichwa. For a very interested and curious crowd of over 200 people, Mike showed a lot of cool new features. More details about that in a next post.
In the evening we had the usual APEX meetup in one of Monterey's many restaurants. The meetup is getting bigger and bigger. This time there were more than 30 people!

Tuesday June 23
Another (beautiful) day packed with interesting APEX sessions. Bharat had the honor of keeping everyone's interest (after yesterdays meetup). He easily attracted attention by showing what you can do using DHTMLX Tree's and Grid. Very web 2.0 like pages with no resemblance of the standard APEX Themes at all!
Later that day Tim St. Hilaire dived into the wonderful world of jQuery and Yahoo UI. He showed how you can solve Wait Processing, Pop Up Dialog Boxes and Autocomplete functionality using these Javascript frameworks. Looking at the LOC needed for implementing this functionality jQuery will be my personal preference!
Next John Scott showed what you can do to increase the scalability of APEX. Using caching, minifying javascript, adding expiry info, gzip files etc you can dramatically reduce the number of round trips and the size of the data transfer.
Then it was my turn to present about How to integrate Forms and APEX. It went rather well, although I finished somewhat early. For myself I noted some accents to improve the presentation for OOW!
The last session of the day was done by Brian Spendolini. He demoed how to use Oracle Application Express on the iPhone. He showed how to overcome the size and navigation limitations of the iPhone and how to create real native iPhone APEX apps. Very cool stuff...
That evening I was invited for the Oracle ACE dinner in the other conference hotel at the beach. Nice food and good company. As always we ended up at Knuckles...

Wednesday June 24
The (for me) final day of the conference started off with Dietmar Aust's Generating complex Excel reports with APEX and jXLS. Maybe as a last resort I would come up with this solution, but it is not my tool of choice, because you have to learn another specific "jXLS language" and some Java stuff for the communication with the engine.
Next Joel Kallman showed how to Effectively Manage an Application Express instance using the Oracle Database Resource Manager. With live demo's on oracle.apex.com he explained how to use the different resource settings in order to improve the overall performance. With 7,000,000 page views a week, apex.oracle.com has only around 5 (real) active sessions at any moment. Should I say more on scalability?
After that, two sessions about managing the development of larger and multiple applications. In the first, Scott Spendolini explained the use of multiple Applications (one master application to subscribe to, one login application, one template application with all the subscriptions as a starter app and one for access control) can simplify, unify and speed up your development effort. In the other session Raj Mattamal raced - in his own special way ;-) - through the problems you might encounter when working with a larger team on an APEX application. Version control, page locking, page exports and - again - splitting up an application into different sub-apps where discussed.
In between these two, Francis Mignault talked about How to Build a multi-tenant SAAS application with Oracle Application Express. Very impressive to see how they managed to support such a different style of UI for their customers, while it still is one application in the end. Using VPD, customer specific style sheets and customer specific information it seemed like we were looking at totally different apps!

Thursday to Sunday June 25 - 28
While suffering from an information overload I decided to skip the last three sessions on Thursday morning and drove to Yosemite. After a very nice drive over the Californian roads (sometimes very long and straight, just like in the movies) I arrived in Yosemite. First I went to see the really, really big sequoias. Then I drove all the way up to Glacier Point. From there you have a stunning view on the amazing wonderful environment. Another long and winding road later I ended up in Yosemite Valley where I had reserved a cabin on forehand. Lots of squirrels, chipmunks and raccoons, but no bears... The next day I headed up to Mirror Lake, and took a quick look at the Yosemite Falls. Alas I had too little time to make a big hike all the way to the top, because I had to turn in my car at the end of the day. Another fine drive to (even visited La Grange) San Francisco - driving over the Bay Bridge is really special! Early next morning to the airport to catch my 7:35 flight to Atlanta. In Atlanta my 2 hours transfer time was extended to five hours before I could get on the long second leg to Amsterdam. Back home Sunday around noon....


Thanks to Crystal and her team and all the ODTUG volunteers it was another great ODTUG conference. Hope to see you all in October at OOW or at the next ODTUG event (in Boston? Atlantic City? Orlando?).
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