IBM has released a big upgrade to its Informix database and plans to offer a new "Express" edition of the product, aimed at smaller businesses, by the middle of the year.

Informix Dynamic Server (IDS) Version 10 has improvements in performance, administration and security, and also adds support for the Linux 2.6 kernel, IBM said. It called it the most significant upgrade of IDS in five years.

IBM acquired Informix's database business in 2001 for US$1 billion. Customers have praised IBM for continuing to update the products and not forcing them onto its flagship DB2 product line, but some have also been critical that IBM does little to market the software, pushing the DB2 brand instead.

That may be changing somewhat, however. In the past year IBM has seemed more willing to provide partners with funding for marketing initiatives, said Neil Truby, director of British company, Ardenta, which provides Informix technical services.

"In the past year we've been given a lot of encouragement. I think IBM has come to realise that they can work with us to reach new and existing customers," he said.

Public backing from IBM is important because it shows potential and existing customers that Informix remains a viable platform to buy into, said Truby, who is also a former director of the Informix International Users Group.

"If people think Informix is dead or dying then they are going to abandon it," he said.

IBM says it remains committed to the Informix products and has laid out a road map for them until 2010. It continues to transfer technologies between IDS and DB2 and is currently working to allow bi-directional data synchronisation between the two platforms, the company said.

With the new IDS release IBM has boosted query performance with better memory allocation and configurable page sizes, the company said. Version 10 also offers improved backup and restore utilities to provide faster set-up of secondary servers, and better log management tools. The Enterprise Replication feature, for generating copies of data at multiple sites, now supports templates, easing deployment. The database comes with a new tool that can cut installation time in half, according to IBM.

Version 10 also lets administrators do a "point-in-time restore" for an individual table, a capability already available in DB2. IDS customers currently have to restore the whole database, copy the table they want and then reinsert it, Truby said. "It's a matter of granular control," he said.

New security features include support for PAM (pluggable authentication module), which lets an administrator customise authentication for individual applications, and column-level encryption.

IBM offered few specifics about the planned version of IDS for small and medium-sized businesses, which will be called IDS Express Edition and is planned for mid-year release. IBM did say that the product will be offered for Windows and Linux and be priced to attract smaller companies.

IBM already offers an Express version of DB2. Rivals Oracle and Microsoft also offer databases targeted at the low end of the market.

Packaging details for IDS 10 have changed slightly. Customers who use the Workgroup Edition must now purchase the High Availability Data Replication option as a separate feature, and the software can now be run on machines with up to four central processing units.

Customers with a maintenance contract for IDS Version 9.x can upgrade to Version 10 for no extra charge. Pricing for new IDS customers wasn't immediately available; an unlimited processor licence for the existing IDS Enterprise Edition is $50,000 including a year's maintenance.