Sippl and King left Cromemco to found Relational Database Systems (RDS) in 1980. Their first product, Marathon, was essentially a 16-bit version of their earlier ISAM work, released on the Onyx operating system, a version of Unix for early ZiLOG microprocessors.
At RDS, they turned their attention to the emerging RDBMS market and released their own product as Informix (INFORMation on unIX) in 1981. It included their own Informer language. It featured the ACE report writer, used to extract data from the database and present it to users for easy reading. It also featured the PERFORM screen form tool, which allowed a user to interactively query and edit the data in the database. The final release of this product was version 3.30 in early 1986.
In 1985, they introduced a new SQL-based query engine as part of INFORMIX-SQL (or ISQL) version 1.10 (version 1.00 was never released). This product also included SQL variants of ACE and PERFORM. The most significant difference between ISQL and the previous Informix product was the separation of the database access code into an engine process (sqlexec), rather than embedding it directly in the client — thus setting the stage for client-server computing with the database running on a separate machine from the user's machine. The underlying ISAM-based file storage engine was known as C-ISAM.
Through the early 1980s Informix remained a small player, but as Unix and SQL grew in popularity during the mid-1980s, their fortunes changed. By 1986 they had become large enough to float a successful IPO, and changed the company name to Informix Software. The products included INFORMIX-SQL version 2.00 and INFORMIX-4GL 1.00, both of which included the database engine as well as development tools (I4GL for programmers, ISQL for non-programmers).
A series of releases followed, including a new query engine, initially known as INFORMIX-Turbo. Turbo used the new RSAM, with great multi-user performance benefits over C-ISAM. With the release of the version 4.00 products in 1989, Turbo was renamed INFORMIX-OnLine (in part because it permitted coherent database backups while the server was online and users were modifying the data), and the original server based on C-ISAM was separated from the tools (ISQL and I4GL) and named INFORMIX-SE (Standard Engine). Version 5.00 of Informix OnLine was released at the very end of 1990, and included full distributed transaction support with two-phase commit and stored procedures. Version 5.01 was released with support for triggers too.
WingZ provided a highly graphical user interface, supported very large spreadsheets, and offered programming in a HyperCard-like language known as HyperScript. The original release proved very successful, becoming the #2 spreadsheet, behind Microsoft Excel, although many WingZ users found it to be a superior product. In 1990, WingZ ports started appearing for a number of other platforms, mostly Unix variants. During this period, many financial institutions began investing in Unix workstations as a route to increasing the desktop "grunt" required to run large financial models. For a brief period, Wingz was successfully marketed into this niche. However it suffered from a lack of development and marketing resources, possibly due to a general misunderstanding of the non-server software market. By the early 1990s WingZ had become uncompetitive, and Informix eventually sold it in 1995. Informix also sold a license to Claris, who combined it with a rather updated GUI as Claris Resolve.
DSA involved a major rework of the core engine of the product, supporting both horizontal parallelism and vertical parallelism, and based on a multi-threaded core well suited towards the symmetric multiprocessing systems that Sequent pioneered and that major vendors like Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard would eventually follow up on. The two forms of parallelism made the product capable of market-leading levels of scalability, both for OLTP and data warehousing.
Now known as Informix Dynamic Server (after briefly entertaining the name Obsidian and then being named Informix OnLine Dynamic Server), Version 7 hit the market in 1994, just when SMP systems were becoming popular and Unix in general had started to become the server operating system of choice. Version 7 was essentially a generation ahead of the competition, and consistently won performance benchmarks. As a result of its success Informix vaulted to the #2 position in the database world by 1997, pushing Sybase out of that spot with surprising ease.
Building on the success of Version 7, Informix split its core database development investment into two efforts. One effort, first known as XMP (for eXtended Multi-Processing), became the Version 8 product line, also known as XPS (for eXtended Parallel Server). This effort focused on enhancements in data warehousing and parallelism in high-end platforms, including shared-nothing platforms such as IBM's RS-6000/SP.
Both new versions, V8 (XPS) and V9 (IUS), appeared on the market in 1996, making Informix the first of the "big three" database companies (the others being Oracle and Sybase) to offer built-in O-R support. Commentators paid particular attention to the DataBlades, which soon became very popular: dozens appeared within a year, ported to the new architecture after partnerships with Illustra. This left other vendors scrambling, with Oracle introducing a "grafted on" package for time-series support in 1997, and Sybase turning to a third party for an external package which remains an unconvincing solution.
Although Informix took a technological lead in the database software market, product releases began to fall behind schedule by late 1996. Plagued with technical and marketing problems, a new application development product, Informix-NewEra, was soon overshadowed by the emerging Java programming language. Michael Stonebraker had promised that the Illustra technology would be integrated within a year after the late 1995 acquisition, but as Gartner Group had predicted, the integration required more than 2 years. Unhappy with the new direction of the company, XPS lead architect Gary Kelley suddenly resigned and joined arch-rival Oracle Corporation in early 1997, taking 11 of his developers with him. Informix ultimately sued Oracle to prevent loss of trade secrets.
In November 2002, Phillip White, the former CEO of Informix ousted in 1997, was indicted by a federal grand jury and charged with eight counts of securities, wire, and mail fraud. In a plea bargain thirteen months later, he pleaded guilty to a single count of filing a false registration statement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
In May 2004, the Department of Justice announced White was sentenced to two months in federal prison for securities fraud, a fine of $10,000, along with a two-year period of supervised release and 300 hours of community service. The announcement noted that the amount of loss to shareholders from the violation, could not reasonably be estimated under the facts of the case White's earlier plea agreement had limited prison time to no more than 12 months.
German citizen and resident Walter Königseder, the company's Vice-President in charge of European operations, was also indicted by a federal grand jury but the United States has been unable to secure his extradition.
In November 2005, a book detailing the rise and fall of Informix Software and CEO Phil White was published. Written by a long time Informix Employee, The Real Story of Informix Software and Phil White: Lessons in Business and Leadership for the Executive team provides an insider's account of the company showing a detailed chronology of the company's initial success, ultimate failure, and how CEO Phil White ended up in jail.
Prior to its purchase, Informix's product lineup included:
In April 2001, IBM took advantage of this reorganization and, prompted by a suggestion from Wal-Mart (Informix's largest customer), bought from Informix the database technology, the brand, the plans for future development (an internal project codenamed "Arrowhead"), and the over 100,000-customer base associated with these. The remaining application and tools company renamed itself Ascential Software. In May 2005, IBM bought Ascential, reuniting Informix's assets under IBM's Information Management Software portfolio.