This response is broken into two parts. For the full answer, please view both parts. Read Part 2.
First of all, I must let you know that I have very little experience with Informix. My expertise lies with Oracle databases. So I might be a little biased here.... Please spare me from the flame wars that may follow. :)
Oracle is one of the most scalable, stable, and high performing RDBMS packages on the market. In fact, these are Oracle's strengths. I consider only one other RDBMS package to be on the same level with Oracle and that is IBM's DB2. Oracle 9i promises to add even more to scalability, stability, and high performance with new features such as Real Application Clusters and Data Guard. But we'll have until the Oracle community has had time to play with Oracle 9i before we can actually determine if the product lives up to the Oracle Corp. marketing hype.
Informix and Sybase are not major players in the RDBMS market anymore due to the fact that they are not as scalable, stable, and high performing as Oracle and DB2. To me, there are only three major players: Oracle, DB2, and Microsoft SQL Server. This does not mean that Informix is not a good product though. In fact, I believe that it has a viable niche in the marketplace.
Oracle is also one of the most tunable RDBMS packages on the market. There are many configuration parameters; some say too many. It is this tunability that gives Oracle it's stability, performance, and scalability. Unfortunately, this means that Oracle is also the most complex RDBMS on the market. There is so much that can be done with an Oracle database system, but one must understand a great deal to be effective. This also leads to increased installation complexities as well as the configuration issues. Oracle Corp. has tried to address this issue in Oracle 9i with more self-tunable parameters. I've never installed Informix, but from what I've heard, it is not nearly as complex.
Oracle is also one of the most costly systems on the market. Oracle has been bashed a lot for its very high pricing structure. Every other RDBMS vendor on the market is cheaper than Oracle, especially Informix. Oracle Corp. has said that Oracle 9i will be cheaper, but when pressed for details this week, they were silent on the issue.
And since Oracle is so complex, it costs a lot to maintain the database systems. Again, Oracle Corp. is trying to address these issues in Oracle 9i and keep maintenance and configuration costs down. But the jury is still out on that one. We'll just have to wait and see how it shakes out.
Informix isn't nearly as complex, and that can be part of its allure. It is also cheaper. And total cost of ownership (TCO) is much lower in the long run. Many applications don't require the best performing database on the market. So why spend a great deal of money on a work horse if you don't need it?
Read the second half of this detailed response.
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This was first published in June 2001