Informix: Guerrilla Road Warrior

It's battling Oracle via Highway 101 billboards

Smog used to be Silicon Valley's biggest eye irritant. Now, it's arcane, ugly billboards along the valley's main freeways. But even in the clutter, Informix' guerrilla billboard attack on database software rival Oracle Corp. sets a new standard for personal, cutting techno-trivia. A new sign shows a sword broken in two. "Oracle" is written on one half, "Late" on the other. "Maybe the warrior needs a new blade," reads the legend. "Informix."

Only bona fide nerds get the triple entendre in Informix' latest string of attacks: The billboard chides Oracle for its four-year delay in introducing a product called "Oracle8" designed to manage disparate forms of data. It also plays on Oracle CEO Lawrence Ellison's fondness for Japanese samurai symbolism, and it subtly promotes an alternative Informix technology called "datablade."

STOLEN SECRETS? Most drivers are frankly mystified by these and other techno-boards (like an obscurely exuberant one that reads: "Faster! Chronologic VCS 3.0."). "I hate it when I'm alone in the car and I see these. I always think, `Is it just me?"' says local flight attendant Barbara Dougherty. But Phillip E. White, Informix' feisty CEO, says he's paying only $10,000 a month to tell 30 million drivers passing by Oracle each year that Informix has "snuck up Oracle's technical tailpipe." Plus, thanks to heavy traffic near Oracle headquarters and his sign, "Oracle employees get a chance to sit and look at our little jabs," he says.

Ellison watchers say the assault has rankled Oracle's CEO. He frequently needles back Informix in public--even though Informix, with $939 million in revenues, is only one-sixth Oracle's size. And it didn't help when Informix sued Oracle for theft of trade secrets on Jan. 25, after an 11-person research and development team left Informix' Portland (Ore.) facility to join Oracle. An irate Oracle senior vice-president, Jerry Held, retorts that the team sought out Oracle because "Informix is in trouble. They're leaving before the ship sinks." He says he's considering renting a billboard near Informix to say: "Leave Informix and get sued." For his part, White promises more, funnier, and easier-to-understand billboards. Alas. No relief in sight so far.

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