- Oracle Database 18c version number is not because of significant jump in features such as “self-patching”, “self-upgrading” or “self-tuning” (nowadays prominent features are announced in component specific releases - for example, In-Memory feature got introduced in Oracle Database 126.96.36.199 and not available in 188.8.131.52).
- There are no significant architecture changes in 18c.
- Oracle Database 18c by itself is NOT Self-Driving. It is the Oracle Autonomous Database Cloud Service that brings the "Self-Driving" in 18c. Oracle Database 18c installed on-prem will "drive" pretty much the same as Oracle Database 12c.
- DBA jobs are not going away. But, unrelated to 18c Database; the DBA role is evolving, and the mundane day-to-day activities are getting automated everywhere. DBAs need to spend more time on architecture, business process and application design activities.
Well, if these statements are true, why such a massive jump in version number - from 12c to 18c! What happened to 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17? From the past release history, it usually takes over 20 years to get to version 18 from 12!!
My Oracle Support (MOS) Note 742060.1 has the answer. "New releases will be annual, and the version will be the last two digits of the release year. The release originally planned as 184.108.40.206 will now be release 18, and the release originally planned as 220.127.116.11 will be release 19. Releases 18 and 19 will be treated as under the umbrella of 12.2 for Lifetime Support purposes. The current plan is for Oracle Database 19 to be the last release for 12.2. This may change in the future to Oracle 20 as the last release for 12.2. "
That says it all! From 2018 onwards, the “full release patch sets" will be named with release year as the major version. Remember, back in the old days, patch sets were indeed patch sets. DBA installed a 10.2.0.4 patch set on an existing installation of 10.2.x software binaries, and the patch sets were smaller in download size than a full release. Starting with 18.104.22.168, Oracle began to release the patch sets as a full release. You install the 22.214.171.124 database on its ORACLE_HOME and not on top of existing 11.2.x installation. So, from that standpoint there is no difference to the DBAs, the difference is only in how Oracle names the patch set version. In short, 126.96.36.199 is Oracle Database 18c (GA in Q1 2018), and 188.8.131.52 is Oracle Database 19c (GA in Q1 2019).
Since 18c and 19c (and maybe 20c) also under the 12cR2 support policy, I think naming each patch set with a major version number would cause some confusion especially in support policy and certification exams. Not sure what is the plan to release support policy and Certification exams after 20c. If I were deciding the names, would have called the 2018 release (184.108.40.206) as “Oracle Database 12c Release 2018” instead of 18c and "“Oracle Database 12c Release 2019” instead of 19c. Let’s say the next major release is in 2021, it could be called “Oracle Database 21c Release 2021”, so we know the major release year easily, and a new certification exam and support policy could be tied to that major release (21c). Each subsequent year versions would be "Oracle Database 21c Release 2022” instead of 22c and "Oracle Database 21c Release 2023” instead of 23c and so on.
Coming back to 18c, there is also a significant change in how proactive patches are bundled for the Oracle Database and Grid Infrastructure. Today we have Proactive Bundle Patches (BP) and Proactive Patch Set Update (PSU) patches. With 18c (and also with 12cR2 – see MOS Note 2245178.1), there will not be BP and PSU anymore; the model changes to Release Update (RU) and Release Update Revision (RUR). Consider "Release" as the major version (18c - 18.1.0), "Release Update" may be considered equivalent to a BP with a version number (18.2.0, 18.3.0, 18.4.0, so on) and "Release Update Revision" may be considered as a PSU with a version number (18.2.1, 18.2.2, 18.2.3, 18.3.1, 18.3.2, and so on). RU and RUR patches are cumulative. The release cycle is explained in MOS Note 2285040.1.
Still, there are a lot of unanswered questions and concerns about the patch release cycle and version numbering. For example, in 2019 Q3 are we going to get 18.8.0 RU and 19.4.0 RU? In the same quarter, are we going to get 2 RUR for 18.x and 2 RUR for 19.x? That makes a total of 6 releases in a quarter. How about 2020 Q1? The other concern in my mind is little personal. How often is Oracle going to release a certification exam? I have been authoring Oracle Certification books every version since 8i. I had 4 to 5 years gap between publishing the books as Oracle released updated version of exam only for major releases. Hope it stays that way!