What You Can Expect
If you are with me this far, it means you are actually considering learning Oracle, or are at least curious to see how I do it. In that case, I'd like to share with you some of my initial impressions in order to make your own entry into this arena somewhat easier.
It is very important to realize that Oracle is a complex and sophisticated product. It is also much different than SQL Server. Expect a large learning curve—especially to begin with. It might take a while before you feel that you are getting somewhere. (It did for me.)
You should be prepared to use client tools that are more text-oriented and in some ways less powerful than those that come with SQL Server. A good example is SQL*Plus—the tool used to enter SQL commands (the equivalent of Query Analyzer). Instead of graphical show plans, color-coded syntax, and a tree view of all your objects—those of you that haven't seen the new Query Analyzer in SQL 2000 should run out and get a copy right away!—you get a tool that in many ways is no better than Notepad. (There are a number of third-party tools that fill the gap.)
However, if you make it past this hump, you will begin to learn and appreciate the advanced features of Oracle. In fact, many features that I'm excited about in SQL Server 2000—such as multiple instances on one machine, user-defined functions, and cascading referential integrity—have been in Oracle for a while already.
Windows or Unix? Unix or Windows?
Before taking the plunge to learning Oracle, you have a major decision to make. Most Oracle installations are done on some version of Unix. If you are serious about learning Oracle, at some point you will have to learn it on Unix. However, if you've never used Unix before you might want to concentrate first on learning Oracle on Windows in order to avoid getting hit with too much at once. Once you are comfortable with Oracle on Windows you can pick up Unix separately.
Where to Start
There are a couple of ways to get started. First of all, I advise you to become a member of the Oracle Technology Network (OTN). It's free and provides a great resource of white papers and the like. (Even so, I find that I have to do a little more digging and poking around to find helpful information there than I do to find equally helpful information on Microsoft's MSDN site.)
You can download fully functional versions of Oracle software from OTN. If you don't have a fast connection, you have several more choices to obtain a copy of Oracle to play with. Oracle sells technology packs that consist of all their software for a particular platform for the relatively cheap price of $200. You can find out more about these packs from OTN's download page.
You can also buy one of the many books that come with an evaluation copy of Oracle. I received my first version of Oracle by purchasing Oracle8i for Windows NT Starter Kit by Steve Bobrowski (Osborne/McGraw-Hill).
Oracle Essentials by Rick Greenwald et al. (O'Reilly) provided me with a terrific overview of the Oracle database universe. The book focuses on showing what the forest looks like and leaves the details for other books.
Oracle also provides a series of instructor-led classes if you prefer to learn that way. You can learn more about the various classes and schedules at Oracle University, in addition to getting information about online learning and other educational offerings from Oracle.
As I've said, this is a learning experience for me too. I don't know beforehand where my explorations will take me. However, I intend to continue learning and writing (no doubt with some complaining, ranting, and raving thrown in for good measure) as I continue to make my way through the Oracle universe. If you are on the same trail yourself, I'd love to hear about your experiences. You can get in touch with me at email@example.com.