Informix Wingz

Informix Wingz

Wingz was a spreadsheet program sold by Informix in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Originally developed for the Macintosh, it was later distributed on Microsoft Windows, OS/2, NextStep and several other commercial flavors of Unix. Informix, used to selling a single relational database package for thousands of dollars per site, apparently never really understood the idea of mass marketing shrinkware and was unable to break the monopoly held by Microsoft Excel even though Wingz was technically superior and easier to use.Fact|date=February 2007 Informix eventually gave up on the desktop market and reverted solely to database sales in the mid-1990s. Claris also sold an extensively cleaned up version as Claris Resolve in 1991, but it was far too late to market to have any effect.

Wingz was originally written solely for the Macintosh by Innovative Software in Lenexa, KS (publishers of the SmartWare Suite on the PC) and was ready for release in late 1988. Informix was looking to break into the desktop software market with products that could link to their back-end databases, and Wingz seemed like an excellent fit. They purchased the product and released it largely as-is in early 1989. The release was built up by extensive promotion on the part of Informix, including giving away a then-unprecedented array of "convention swag," including high quality Wingz "letter jackets."

The most obvious feature, and the easiest to "checkbox review", was the massive spreadsheets Wingz could process. Excel's maximum size was 265 columns by 16384 rows, while Wingz could handle spreadsheets up to 32768 in both directions. At the time spreadsheets were still being compared primarily on this feature. A less-obvious feature was that Wingz allowed easy in-cell editing, whereas Excel forced you to use a separate data-entry bar, and still does to a large extent to this day.

Another clear difference between Wingz and Excel was Wingz' powerful graphing system, which also allowed the resulting graphs to be placed directly in the spreadsheets. At the time Excel offered an anemic variety of 2D graphs, and they could only be displayed in a separate view. Additionally Wingz made it easy to make the graphs and modify them, allowing you to see your changes in real-time right in the spreadsheet where the changes were being made. At the time it was an "obvious" feature, but one that no other program had managed to make work correctly.

A more hidden feature was HyperScript, a macro-programming language deliberately modelled on HyperCard's HyperTalk. HyperScript allowed even new users to write fairly powerful macros, which could include user-interface features such as buttons and dialog boxes. HyperScript 1.0 was missing some rather obvious features. For instance it could not open another spreadsheet, although it could refer to them if the user opened it for them.

A less hidden "feature" was that the program shipped with a number of bugs, which tainted the release. It also lacked a number of mathematical functions that Excel handled internally, and had no direct importer/exporter for Excel files.

Microsoft responded to the release of Wingz, and others such as Ashton-Tate's Full Impact and the Mac version of Lotus 1-2-3 that came out about the same time, by starting an extensive upgrade to Excel. They were soon showing it around claiming it would have all the features of Wingz — in-sheet graphics, large spreadsheets, etc. When it was finally released it was true many of these features were supported, but in ways that were painful to use. However to the market it was a case of the devil-you-know.

It was only a short period of time before a Wingz 1.1 release fixed many of these issues, but it was long enough that the product never seemed to regain its momentum. It also seemed that Informix never really understood how to sell the product, and it is likely 'Not Invented Here' played a major part in the problems as well — the purchase of Wingz and Smartware prompted Roger Sippl, one of the founders of Informix, to leave the company.

Shortly after Sippl left, Phil White, the new CEO of Informix, announced that Informix would no longer be competing in the desktop application space. Joe Erickson, the lead developer of the Smart Spreadsheet, Wingz, Formula One VBX, Formula One ActiveX, Formula One for Java and SpreadsheetGear for .NET, left shortly after that.

Future releases focused on bringing the product to new platforms as their GUI's matured, and adding functionality to HyperScript to allow it to directly interact with databases. Soon it was being marketed primarily as a data access tool, and eventually the name Wingz was dropped and the product became HyperScript Tools. After several years of ignoring it further, it was sold off to Investment Intelligence Systems in the UK. At some unknown point Wingz was bought by a company in San Jose, CA called PDF Solutions (www.pdf.com) which now uses Wingz as a private base for their DataPOWER Semiconductor yield management software packages.

Claris, Apple Computer's onetime software arm, licensed Wingz in the early 1990s after Informix lost interest in the Mac market. They updated it slightly with the addition of the Claris-standard UI (toolbars, color palettes, etc.) and released it as Resolve in 1991. By this time Excel was entrenched, and sales of Resolve were tiny. Claris never released a Resolve-MacWrite-Claris Impact bundle, and so were unable to gain a foothold in the high-end market now dominated by Microsoft Office. They eventually cancelled development in 1993, ending sales in 1994.

External links

* [http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0SMG/is_n8_v9/ai_7388542 The dream spreadsheet - Informix WingZ]
* [http://www.linuxsoft.cz/en/sw_detail.php?id_item=1323 WingZ port for Linux]
* [http://www.asa3.org/chemistry/computers_in_chemistry/intro_to_spreadsheets.html Intro to spreadsheets (WingZ)]


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