IBM is opening up AIX to give users and software vendors a bigger role in influencing its development.

AIX users will be given access to new operating system features as early as a year in advance of a version upgrade, Big Blue said, rather than the existing three months. In the case AIX 5.4, due in 2007, new features will be available for testing from the beginning of next year.

"Instead of a big-bang release, what we're trying to do is give customers access to the code early," said Karl Freund, VP of IBM's pSeries server line. The goal is to early feedback on some of the concepts that the company is considering adding to the operating systems, Freund said.

What IBM is proposing "makes a lot of sense - if it works," said AIX user Kenneth Ebbe, assistant to the CIO at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. "What they set out to do with it and what they actually do with it can be two different things," warned Ebbe. "But it sounds like they are trying to get the end users involved as quickly as possible and as broadly as possible."

IBM isn't following Sun's lead however and making AIX open-source. Freund ruled out open-source as an option and said he thinks open-source products tend to mimic advances made in proprietary ones.

But there's a pressing business reason for making the move to a more community-oriented development model, Freund said. Unix servers are under such pressure from commodity Windows and Linux systems, he said, that vendors such as IBM have to accelerate access to their technical innovations "in order for us to continue to drive successful growth".