Lets say you are interested in running a website related to a subject close to your heart. In days of yore, it involved getting your hands down and dirty in writing code which will show your content legibly in a web browser. But then a couple of years ago, a new phenomenon gathered momentum - which was the spurt in software which help one to manage ones content online. Not surprisingly most of these software categorize themselves as content management systems (CMS) though many call themselves by other names like blogging systems, Wiki and so on.
What is really spectacular and common about these software is that all of them allow non-tech users to publish their content online without worrying about writing code. Some of the more popular CMSes around are Drupal, Wordpress, Joomla, MediaWiki ... the list is a long one and I could take a whole day to list all of them here.
But ease of use of a CMS to publish your content doesn't mean ease of installing it. That is, most CMSes make use of a web server to serve the files and a database to store the content. While it is simple to set up when you are hosting your website online on a shared or even managed dedicated host provider since most of the work is done for you, when it comes to developing your site (setting up all the software locally on your machine), it fast gets tedious. This is especially true if you are a pure web designer by profession and know little about configuring a web server or a database server.
This is were software stacks gain prominence. Software stacks are installation bundles which contain all the relevant software to get you up and running in what ever you intend to do with it. For example, if you are a Wordpress developer who intend to work in developing a Wordpress theme, then instead of separately downloading, installing and configuring a web server, a database server and likes, you can just download the Wordpress stack, install it using the point-and-click method and then go about testing your theme in the newly installed Wordpress blog on your machine.
Keeping the web developer and tech agnostic people who intend to develop their own website in mind, a group called BitNami are providing software / application stacks as a free download. They have laid out an impressive array of software stacks on their website. For example, you have the Joomla stack, Drupal, Wordpress, Mediawiki, even CMSes targeted at corporate environments which require Java, such as Roller. And each of these stacks are an all inclusive bundle containing all the relevant software. You just need to download, install and then start using the CMS - which removes a major hassle from you.
Bitnami provides these application stacks for multiple platforms such as Windows, Linux and MacOSX - though the Linux and Mac OSX versions of their stacks for some applications are yet to be ready.
I decided to download their Drupal stack mainly because they provide a Linux version of it. Not surprisingly it is a hefty download of 56 MB. After downloading, I was flawlessly able to install it on my Linux machine and in no time, I was browsing the newly installed and running Drupal. One thing worth noting is that during the installation itself you are prompted to set a user name and password which will be your administrator user name and also the IP address of your machine so that the software can be configured to be accessed from within your LAN. If you are using a standalone machine, you can enter the IP address 127.0.0.1 or your machine host name.
Pros of Bitnami Stacks
- Each stack is self contained and will not interfere with other software installed on your machine.
- Each stack contain all the relevant software pieces which are required to run the application
- No need to edit the configuration files of your web server or database server as all of it is taken care for you.
- You can download bitnami stacks for multiple platforms.
- You can install multiple stacks on the same machine - though I guess, not run them at the same time.
- Since each stack is an all inclusive package, it is a relatively hefty download. For example, the Drupal application stack is a huge 56 MB download compared to that from the Drupal official website which is around 5 MB.
- When I downloaded the Drupal stack from Bitnami, I found that it was a plain vanilla installation. A glance at the Drupal website shows it has 100s of extra modules which a web developer needs to download and install separately in order to use them, not to speak of the themes. It would be a really good thing if the Bitnami application stack included all these extra Drupal modules and themes too. As the size of the download is not an issue here, including these extra modules and themes will at most increase the size by a further 10 - 20 MB but will provide even greater value for the web developer.
- Apart from providing an installer it would be nice if they also provide a standalone zip or tar.gz archive for download so that it can be unpacked to a USB stick and run from it.