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Oracle, Informix demand loyalty

With Informix starting to make gains, Oracle is reminding third-party developers that it's Oracle they should love best.

With Informix Software (IFMX) starting to gain both in market share and recognition from the industry, Oracle (ORCL) is out to remind third-party developers that it's Oracle they should love best.

Both companies are competing on the basis of "universal" versions of their databases that will store any kind of data type--be it text, video, graphics, or objects--in addition to traditional relational data.

To make the strategy work, they are both counting on the support of third-party developers to write add-on applications that plug into the database and extend its capabilities. It's these developers that will make the new versions truly "universal." Without developers to take advantage of the new database architectures, both Oracle and Informix databases will be universal only in theory.

Oracle's universal database isn't due out until next summer. But yesterday in New York, Informix hosted a splashy official launch of its long-awaited Universal Server. Company CEO Philip White used the occasion to predict that his company will leapfrog Oracle to become the biggest database vendor over the next two to three years.

Those are fightin' words.

Oracle struck back today in announcing a series of enticements intended to win the loyalty of third-party developers. The company wants those developers to write data "cartridges" for its Network Computing Architecture, which is built around a "thin" client, or network computer, and scaled-down, task-specific applications that live on the server and are downloaded by request to the client.

These cartridges are almost exactly the same concept as Informix's Data Blades--scaled-down, task-specific applications that plug into its Universal Server.

Theoretically, developers could write applications for both platforms. But, in practice, supporting two different architectures is onerous for most small or medium-sized developers. To build up "mind share," and ultimately, market share for their respective architectures, Oracle and Informix are battling to show who has the longest list of developers.

Oracle persuaded 60 companies today to announce support for its cartridge concept. As a reward, all of these will receive a software developer's kit for creating Web-based cartridges and a free subscription to Oracle technical resources for developers.

IBM has announced a universal version of its own database as well, the DB2 Common Server. But industry observers feel that the real action will be between Informix and Oracle. Informix can probably be counted on to announce its own developer incentives soon.