Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Shipping Software Appliances

Miguel de Icaza:

Today is a big day for the Mono team, we just released the Mono Tools for Visual Studio. The goal of this release is to make it simpler for Visual Studio developers to deploy their applications on Linux. ASP.NET, Windows.Forms, server and console applications are supported...

And finally, one of the most exciting features in this tool: go from shipping applications into shipping appliances in minutes:

You use our wizard to prepare your appliance, select a base operating system template (Server, Client, and base operating system) and off you go.

Once your appliance is built, you can test it and apply the finishing touches over the web (using a Flash applet that connects to our virtual machines in our data center) and when you are happy with the results, you can download and redistribute your appliance to your users


Earlier this year I wrote about Novell's SUSE Studio our hosted service that helps developers create ready-to-run appliances.

Today, as a .NET developer, when you distribute your software to your users and customers, you probably have a list of requirements that goes like this:

  • Install Windows XXX, Reboot.
  • Install security updates A through Z, reboot as many times as needed.
  • Install .NET runtime, reboot as needed.
  • Install SQL server, reboot as needed.
  • Populate database, reboot as needed.
  • Install third party tool, reboot as needed.
  • Just to be sure, reboot.

Then your users can start installing your software. At that point, you initiate a series of support calls that go like this:

  • Did you make sure that .NET xxx.yy was installed? Ah, so do that and resume the steps.
  • Wrong databases, uninstall, reboot, reinstall database, reboot.

And repeat the above process for every single one of your users.

Basically, every user has to repeat the same steps. Everyone has to assemble the solutions made up of the operating system, various pieces of dependencies that you have and your software, like this:

The experience today is like trying to buy a car by buying the individual parts:

We believe that for a class of developers there is a better way.

We believe that we can help you put together the full car, and deliver the car in a single piece.

With appliances you can ship a pre-configured operating system, pre-configured database and every service pre-configured and installed together with your software to deliver a full package, so you prepare your software for distribution once, you configure the database once, and then you give your users a ready-to-run virtual machine, CD-ROM or USB stick:

SUSE Studio has been used to build Linux based appliances (over four thousand per week), and now we are making it easy for .NET developers to take advantage of one of Linux's strengths: it is free, it is open source, you can shrink it, you can grow it and you can ship your own version (and yes, we do provide the updates for all of the core components that you pick).

This is essentially my vision for distributing SchoolTool on Ubuntu, albeit with a less slick toolset. We're not literally an appliance yet, but closing in on it. The recommended way to install SchoolTool is to create a new Ubuntu instance on a real or virtual machine, add our package repositories, and 'apt-get install schooltool' That gets you a running instance on an environment identical to our developers'.

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