IBM has opened up the beta testing of AIX version 6 to all comers, instead of limiting it to invited developers.

This is IBM's first "open beta" programme for its AIX version of Unix. IT workers are so used to downloading other vendors' software for evaluation that IBM “just decided it made a lot of sense for AIX", according to Scott Handy, VP worldwide marketing and strategy for the company’s System p server line, which runs both AIX and Linux. Earlier this year, the company also announced that Linux applications would run on System p.

Handy said that one goal is to enable customers, who are testing System p hardware under IBM's Try and Buy programme, to use AIX 6 as well. The Try and Buy option lets users run servers on a trial basis at no cost.

Tony Iams, analyst at research firm Ideas International, said the open beta on AIX "is really an effort to capture some of the best elements of what people are expecting now of open source", including the ability to test new product releases as early and as often as possible. "It's a small step to take to involve more of the community in testing before [an upgrade's] release," Iams said.

But do not mistake the use of the word "open" as meaning open source. Handy said that by offering the open beta for AIX, which runs only on systems based on IBM's Power microprocessors, the company is not signalling any open source plans for the operating system.

"One of the ways we achieve reliability with AIX is by giving our customers very consistent release to release changes," Handy said. He added that for users who are interested in open source technology, "we support them through Linux".

IBM plans to ship a commercial release of AIX 6 in this year's fourth quarter. Among the promised enhancements in the upgrade is an improved virtualisation capability designed to give processing workloads the illusion that are running on their own operating systems, when they are actually using a subset of AIX with their own root passwords and IP addresses.

Iams said that capability will provide some efficiency gains and some management benefits, because users will have to manage only one operating system while running applications as if they were on separate systems. The expanded virtualisation features also will enable system administrators to move workloads around a network in a way that preserves their existing operating state.