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Packed with pride over the release of the Power6 chip, IBM has decided to go bold with its complementary AIX6 operating system. It's putting the OS up for public beta - a first for Big Blue.

Historically, IBM will hand deliver beta AIX code to thirty of forty of its largest customers. With AIX6, however, IBM has gone to the trouble of crafting a web site for the beta, allowing anyone with CD burning wherewithal to grab the code. IBM pitches the new open stance as a way to welcome HP-UX and Solaris users to the wonders of AIX.

We revealed the public beta plan back in May and also documented the new OS's rather Solaris 10-like feel. All of the new tools covered in that story will be available via the AIX beta.

IBM plans to ship a production version of AIX 6.1 - the company refuses to call it 6.0 - in the fourth quarter. That's quite a bit later than originally planned and puts the OS release about five months or so behind the first Power6-based servers.

Due to architectural changes made moving from Power5 to Power6, customers will in some instances need to recompile their software to see top performance. IBM, however, is stressing that all existing software will run just fine on Power6, enjoying major speed-ups without recompilation.

"We are telling customers that we will pretty much guarantee binary compatibility," IBM VP Scott Handy told us.

IBM has issued 25 top Power6 benchmarks, and 23 of those rely on non-recompiled code.

"AIX 6 will run on IBM systems based on Power4, PowerPC  970, Power5, and IBM's latest Power6 processors allowing customers to protect their investment in existing hardware and yet take advantage of new features and technology in AIX6 like Workload Partitions for enhanced application virtualization," IBM said. "And AIX 6 will fully exploit the capabilities of IBM's newest benchmark-leading UNIX midrange server, the IBM System p 570 - based on Power6 technology - which was just announced in May and began shipping last month.  

"Secondly, AIX 6 is being designed to be fully binary compatible with previous releases of AIX 5L providing binary compatibility for customer and ISV applications written for previous releases of AIX two levels back, including AIX 5.2 and 5.3, providing customers with investment protection for those applications."

Careful observers will note that IBM has dropped the "L" that stood for Linux affinity from the AIX moniker.

"I think we have gotten to the point that we don't need to convince people that IBM is strategically behind Linux," Handy said.

Those same careful observers will have discovered that IBM is charging a 20 per cent premium for software running on Power6-based servers. Of course, at 4.7GHz, the Power6 chips run a heck of a lot faster than existing Power5+ chips.

IBM has yet to make any concessions for the move to four-core x86 chips on the software pricing front. That leaves low-end Power6-based systems, when they arrive one day, very competitive against Intel and AMD boxes.

"I don't expect any (x86 pricing changes)," Handy said.

IBM keeps bragging about gaining 12 points of Unix server revenue market share in the last five years, dominating Sun and HP. That said, the three companies tend to split the Unix server market just about evenly from quarter to quarter. ®

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