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Informix debuts modular tools

Informix rolls out a new modular tools strategy in an effort to garner industry backing for its Universal Server database.

Hoping to garner industry backing for its Universal Server database--and earn a nickel on its slumping tools business in the process--Informix (IFMX) today rolled out a new modular tools strategy.

Informix, a rising star that recently deposed Sybase (SYBS) as the No. 2 database software maker, is launching a modular toolset called Informix-Data Director that lets developers use their existing tools, such as Microsoft Visual Basic, and Powersoft's PowerBuilder, to build Universal Server applications.

The Data Director modules give developers a drag and drop interface within other maker's toolsets for building Universal Server applications, the company said. That eliminates much of the hand coding that would be needed to build multimedia and Web applications atop the company's Universal Server object-relational database box.

Informix said the modules will work with Microsoft's Visual Basic and Visual C++; Java tools, such as Microsoft Visual J++ and Symantec Visual Caf? Pro; and traditional client-server tools, such as Forte, and PowerBuilder.

A Java version of Data Director designed to work with Java toolsets is slated to ship later this spring. A version for Visual Basic and other tools is expected in the third quarter. Pricing is $200 per user, or $6,000 per CPU for Internet use.

The company also said it has revamped its existing New Era tool to work with Universal Server for building Web-based applications. New Era 3.1 is set to ship in the third quarter, according to the company.

Along with amassing popular support for its Universal Server database, the product resulting from the company's $400 million acquisition of Illustra Software last year, the company is hoping that a new New Era will jump-start its sagging tools revenue.

CEO Phil White said last month 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 the fourth quarter, which just ended, Informix's tools business is indeed a revenues laggard.

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

White said the component toolset will eventually replace the current monolithic version of New Era, which is priced at roughly $1,000 per developer.

"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 are over, since more companies now buy more prewritten, 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 to make working applications. Informix is hoping that the low-priced component tools like Data Director will appeal to developers growing accustomed to downloading the new breed of dirt-cheap or free development tools from the Web.

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.