This is an interesting, if sterile, dissection of the rise and fall of one-time Silicon Valley darling Informix and their charismatic CEO, Phil White. Author Steve Martin was an Informix employee in the critical years from 1991 through 1997, and therefore speaks with the authority and insider's knowledge not found in the perspective of an outside journalist, burdened by the baggage of an interviewee's selective recall. Martin couples with the history a series of business lessons, which, while not profound, provide a succinct primer of management basics that are broadly applicable. Not the least of these lessons is the danger in allowing personal rivalries to cloud sound business judgment. In the case of Informix, an irrational focus on beating Oracle and it's obnoxious CEO, Larry Ellison, could be traced to Informix's eventual demise. While Martin is admittedly a Phil White sympathizer, he is not an apologist, and does a good job of presenting the other side of the story that was so negatively twisted by a scandal-crazed press and a US Justice Department which, in the days of Enron and WorldCom, was chomping at the bit to get a major CEO in handcuffs doing the perp walk wearing stripes. Even the most cynical critic of Informix and White must concede that the offense that ultimately sunk the Informix ship was disproportional to the consequences delivered by Judge Breyer.
This book will be most appreciated by those who have lived and worked in Silicon Valley during the days immediately preceding the Internet boom and subsequent bust, as well as those not intimidated by a fairly heavy dosage of product-related technical jargon. Having been a Silicon Valley CEO at the time with some familiarity with White and the team, I was hoping for more specifics in the disastrous Illustra acquisition - especially more of the personalities involved - but that in no way impacts a solid story that deserves to be chronicled. In summary, if you're looking for an orgy of Informix gossip and dirty laundry, this isn't it. But for a quick and insightful history of an important chapter in Silicon Valley, "The Real Story of Informix Software..." is worth the time.