Microsoft buy Informix? Why not?

It's often been speculated that what Oracle boss Larry Ellison wants most in life is to become Bill Gates. He has lately upped the ante - and now, the rumour is that Microsoft is going to send the Money Truck and buy Informix, the Oracle wannabe known in Silicon Valley as much for its billboards as its database products. Hell, why not?, muses David Coursey.

It's often been speculated that what Oracle boss Larry Ellison wants most in life is to become Bill Gates. Usually this evokes a response of "Not on your best day, kid," and life continues. But in the past few months, Ellison has upped the ante a bit. He has threatened Microsoft with the Network Computer and then with an abortive (some say half-hearted) bid for Apple.

Someone in Redmond must be paying attention; there have been rumors that Microsoft is going to send the Money Truck and buy Informix, the Oracle wannabe known in Silicon Valley as much for its billboards as its database products.

For the past several years, Informix has leased a billboard on Highway 101 near Oracle's headquarters in Redwood Shores. The billboard is always plastered with some sort of taunting reference to Oracle. It is on the northbound side, almost guaranteed to be seen by anyone leaving Oracle and heading to the airport - like customers, maybe?

A discussion about the billboards could fill this column, but I'll save that for later. Instead, let me direct your attention to Microsoft's product line. It's pretty complete except that SQL Server hasn't exactly set the world afire. Microsoft really does need some enterprise-strength database help - and an operating system to support it, some might say.

Buying Informix would give Microsoft a very nice database solution and would give notice that Larry's chances of becoming Bill are much less than Bill's chances of turning Microsoft into Oracle's nightmare.

I must tell you that I claim no special knowledge here. Bill doesn't ask for my opinion before making purchases, and if Larry knows I exist, I'd be frightened. This rumor has been around the block a few times, although recently it's being pushed by Oracle people, who don't really have much to gain by spreading it.

On the other hand, some rumors ought to become reality. No, I don't think Microsoft should own the database business, and I don't think it will. But as Oracle is fast becoming the Microsoft of data management, it's always nice to see more competition. Will Sybase and the other database companies become collateral damage? Let's hope not, but there's a strong chance that will happen even without Microsoft's help.

What would such a takeover mean for customers? Hopefully, that Microsoft would build a powerful, integrated database solution into its enterprise strategy. If there is one place where Microsoft seems weak, that's it. Of course, buying Informix also might convince Microsoft that maybe Windows NT isn't quite ready for heavy-duty enterprise work and maybe Unix isn't so bad after all.

That relates to something I've noticed repeatedly: NT seems like a great operating system if all you've known is DOS and Windows, but it's considered a weak offering to many who are looking downstream rather than upstream. Many people choke at the thought of Microsoft operating systems and databases keeping their business-critical data. And these aren't Microsoft-bashers, either, just people who'd like to depend on tools with a longer track record.

Given all this, I'd like to see Microsoft buy Informix. Then Microsoft could become a real enterprise player that supports multiple operating systems, not all of them Windows. The world, I think, would rejoice.

(Coursey, an analyst and consultant, is editor of "courey.com," an online newsletter available at www.coursey.com. His email address is david@coursey.com.)

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