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Informix hopes for New Era in tools

Informix plans to debut at month's end a new modular development toolkit for building Web and client-server applications.

Hoping to turn its slumping tools business into a cash cow, Informix (IFMX) plans to debut at month's end a new modular development toolkit for building Web and client-server applications.

Informix, a rising star that recently deposed Sybase (SYBS) as the No. 2 database software maker, is attempting to revamp an existing tool called New Era to make it more attractive to intranet application developers.

The company hopes that a new New Era will jump-start its tools revenue. CEO Phil White said earlier this week that tools revenue dropped 12 percent in the past year and 17 percent in the fourth quarter alone. Compared with the company's database server sales, which climbed nearly 37 percent in just-ended fourth quarter, Informix's tools business is indeed a revenue laggard.

The idea behind the new component strategy, as previously reported by CNET, is to let developers mix and match tools that perform specific functions, instead of asking companies to pay for an entire toolset that does everything but fix the corporate plumbing.

White said the revamped toolset will replace the current version of New Era, which is priced at roughly $1,000 per developer. While no pricing for the new toolset has been discussed, sources expect a pricing strategy more in line with tools from Microsoft and other shrink-wrapped tool vendors.

New Era is also being revised to work with the company's Universal Server database software for handling multiple data types, as well as software from competitors, including Oracle and Sybase.

"People are not willing to pay much for tools anymore, so if we can componentize our tools, we may see an uptick," said White. He said that the days of companies paying thousands of dollars for monolithic toolsets is over, since more companies now buy more written, packaged software from vendors such as SAP, PeopleSoft, and others.

But there is a burgeoning market for Web site development tools and for tools that can stitch together software components into working applications. Informix is hoping that the low-priced component version of New Era will appeal to developers growing accustomed to downloading the new breed of dirt-cheap or free development tools from the Web.

White said the component version of New Era will consist of a single development environment with optional components for building Java, fourth-generation language, and Web client applications, along with other undisclosed components.

The Java component will be a version of the company's JWorks tool, a Java-based drag and drop visual development tool due next year, according to Brett Bachman, general manager of enterprise products at Informix.

The component toolkit will be delivered as a point upgrade to New Era 3.0, which shipped last fall. Version 3.0 has been redesigned to support the development of applications that use the complete spectrum of data types, including text, video, and images. All this data, inaccessible from traditional databases, will be stored in the Universal Server database.

While selling development tools has in the past been a sideline business for database software makers, all major companies, including Informix, Sybase, IBM, and Oracle are looking to generate more revenue from products that are peripheral to their core database offerings.

Database license revenues at the big vendors continue to grow, but many analysts predict an eventual revenue slowdown due to increasing price competition that could shave profit margins. That will make development tools, middleware, Web server software, and other products much more valuable.