After touting it for more than a year and a half,


(ORCL) - Get Report

threw a splashy launch party Tuesday at its Redwood Shores, Calif. headquarters for new software that it says will change the world. Or at least how the business world manages files inside databases.

"I have every confidence that this will be the way you manage data for the next 20 years," says Gary Bloom, executive vice president at Oracle. "This is a more effective way of doing computing that's right for the Internet age."

Analysts reserved judgment on whether Oracle can deliver on that big-idea promise.

"With these guys, you always have to wait and see," says Jim Pickerel, an analyst for

Chase H&Q

, exhibiting his usual healthy skepticism about what Oracle says vs. what Oracle does. He rates the stock a buy, and his firm hasn't performed underwriting for the company. "I think on this one they'll have a fair amount to prove. It's potentially interesting, but in and of itself, it's not that big of an event."

Oracle disagrees. It says

Internet File System

, or iFS, will be accessible through the Internet and will essentially allow users to store and manage files, and not just information, in a database environment. That's a huge step forward from the columns-and-rows feel that typifies databases now and makes them unfriendly for managing data in different formats. With iFS, Oracle says, users will be able to manage different types of files -- say email,

Power Point

presentations, and electronic invoices for a specific customer -- in one database.

Even with their skepticism, analysts acknowledge the significance of the concept behind iFS.

"The reality is that information is often stored in documents, not in databases per se," says Bob Austrian, an analyst for

Banc of America Securities

, who rates the stock a buy. His firm has done no underwriting for the company. "Now Oracle is moving to take over the responsibility of storing and managing files inside of its database. In a day and age when


(MSFT) - Get Report

is going down and Oracle is going up, that has obvious financial implications."

Sounds great. Why then the skepticism from analysts who have positive ratings on the company? First off, it comes from Oracle's record of talking big and delivering late. iFS, for example, was first touted by the company in 1998.

"To those of us that have Oracle on the radar, we've heard quite a lot of talk about iFS for the past 18 months, it's not entirely new to the user community," says Austrian. "But the important thing now, I think, is it will not just be rhetoric here."

Yet even though Oracle has been talking iFS for 18 months, it's release now is somewhat surprising. The main product analysts and customers have been looking for from Oracle lately has been its

Applications 11i

business-to-business e-commerce suite. With a similar amount of hype surrounding it, Oracle execs say it will be ready for delivery at the end of this month.

11i, with its sexy B2B functionality, will debut in an area that is currently the Holy Grail of business software -- what industry types call an end-to-end, integrated e-commerce solution. That kind of software is run off a server, not the desktop, and handles a range of transactions.


(IBM) - Get Report

, for example, boasts that its

DB2 Universal Database

, coupled with its


software products, is just such an integrated solution. But, it has been built in several different pieces. What Oracle is touting in 11i is an integrated application based on one technology, which it says will be easier to use than a system built from various products.

IBM, which introduced its own software Tuesday to conduct e-commerce over wireless devices such as mobile phones, notes that so far, Oracle 11i is really just talk.

"Oracle has signed a lot of business based on what it says on paper," says Jocelyn Attal, vice president of marketing for IBM's software group. "But DB2 is there. When Oracle says they're powering nine of the 10 biggest Web sites, that just means there's an Oracle database behind it. It doesn't mean there's an Oracle server behind it. We are the ones empowering the biggest Web sites in the world, because DB2 is in every shop."

In the midst of this who-powers-the-Internet feud, the introduction of iFS could be viewed as Oracle's strategic move for world software domination in a post-Microsoft era. After all, if computing moves to the Internet from the desktop, as many expect, Oracle is in a sweet spot. In an Internet-based world, the functionality that Oracle's iFS should provide would be icing on its cake.

"The timing of it couldn't be better, because of course

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison's vision of an Internet computing model is coming true in spades," Austrian says. "The market cap of Oracle has elevated Ellison's wealth past that of Bill Gates, and voila, here you have the release of iFS in full color."

Gates and Ellison have been flip-flopping the title of world's richest man on an almost daily basis as their company's stocks move up and down.

Bloom, for his part, says the timing of the release of iFS has nothing to do with the upcoming release of 11i. And as for how long it took for iFS to get out the door, he says that only makes it better.

"I consider this to be like fine wine, it only gets better with time. And it's very innovative," Bloom says.

Great quote. Just as long as its passes the smell test once the bottle is uncorked.