Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Virtual Appliance: a simple way to install complex software

This morning I saw an email asking for suggestions for a cheap or low-cost web content management system. There was one other important requirement - the software would be installed, managed and used by "semi-technical people".

A couple of people suggested drupal. I've heard good things about drupal, so I took a quick look at the website. Here's a sample of what hits you on the installation page:

Drupal requires a web server, PHP4 (4.3.3 or greater) or PHP5 ( and either MySQL ( or PostgreSQL (

That's hardly ideal for semi-technical people.

Once drupal is installed, however, it seems easy to configure and use. What my friend's users need is a simple way to install the application in the first place.

The best approach I can think of is to install a Virtual Appliance.

A Virtual Appliance is a virtual machine image which you can run using VMware, Xen or Parallels. It contains a complete application, pre-configured and ready to run.

Using a Virtual Appliance with the free VMware player takes just 5 steps:
  1. Download VMware Player.
  2. Install it. (on Windows, that's a one-click operation).
  3. Download and unzip a suitable Virtual Appliance.
  4. Start the Player and
  5. Start the Appliance.
Now your chosen application is up and ready for use.

I tried out the drupal appliance from JumpBox. It took me about 5 minutes to install and start using it. (I had a bit of a head-start because I already had VMware player installed).

If you know someone who wants user-friendly software but who lacks the technical expertise to install it, look and see if you can find a virtual appliance to suit.

More and more software (open source and commercial) is being offered this way, and it's also a great way to distribute software that you've written or configured.

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