IBM has launched a public beta for the next version of its Informix database server and announced plans to team with Novell for a small-business Informix-on-Linux bundle.

The upgrade to IBM's Informix Dynamic Server (IDS) is code-named Cheetah. The final version, due later this year, will offer new features for application developers, better support for hierarchical data structures and improved query capabilities across multiple instances of the database, said IBM.

For customers and IBM partners, a beta version of the software is available for download.

The company is working with Novell to offer the database in an "integrated, low-cost" package of hardware and software for small and medium-sized businesses. Due out this year, it will include Novell's Suse Linux Enterprise Server and an IBM xSeries 3105 server powered by AMD Opteron 1000 processors, IBM said. Pricing and other details will be announced nearer to its release.

IBM acquired Informix's database business in 2001 for about $1 billion. Customers have praised the company for continuing to develop IDS and for not forcing them onto IBM's flagship DB2 databases - vut some users have also been critical that IBM has actually done little to market the software, pushing its DB2 brand instead.

IBM said the development of Cheetah shows that IDS is still a strategic product, and has promised improvements to speed up application developers' work. Cheetah also supports the services-oriented architecture model for application integration, and comes with a new deployment wizard to minimise the disk space required for a custom install, IBM said.

The last major upgrade to IDS, version 10, came out two years ago, in March 2005.