Forum OpenACS Q&A: Windows - OpenACS and AOL server - Help Getting started

I recently found an opportunity to become a contributor to a project application that uses AOL server and OpenACS but quickly found I was in way over my head. I need some help getting started to gain hands on experience. Would someone please advise me on how to get started?

A few years ago I wrote a lot of Tcl, I've got a reasonable understanding of relational data bases, but have mostly used MS Access QBE where I don't have to pound out the SQL by hand. I have also read P. Greenspun's books and I am ready to launch into setting up a Web page.  I can barely spell Linux, but I am willing to do every thing possible to learn what I need to build a web server and host a rich interactive web page. I need to build a new system for my home use so I am considering building dual boot Windows/Linux system to gain practical experinence.

Where do I start? - Is it worth it to try this in a windows environment and then do it on the Linux boot? What Linux distribution is best suited for an easy install of AOLserver, OpenACS, and open RDMBS ?

Are ther tutorials available? Books that don't assume too much?


You might want to use oasis:

its a VMWare image that lets you run linux on top of windows and its all pre-installed for you. As far as getting started developing goes, dive in ask questions and possibly hang out at irc:// to ask questions if needed. Or if you are in WAY over your head, find a way to get out of the project :)

In case you missed it, see

Part II: Administrator's Guide (for install help)


Part III: Package Developer's Guide (for tutorial)

from the most recent docs:

Well, you probably should start by getting familiar with Linux, as thats the native environment. Its not harder than W*ndows, just different, but more of it happens on the command line (which is like the MSDOS app) and its best to be familiar with that.

To try Linux, one of the "LiveCD" 's (such as Knoppix, Gnoppix, Mandrake Move, or PCLinux) will boot from CD image on a Windows machine without affecting the HD, and allow you to play around. I like PCLinuxOS ( or google the others.

There was some talk of setting up an OpenACS LiveCD but I'm not sure about status/who/where. Try (, you may have to SaveLink As to get the download. This would be the easiest playground.

Alternatively, if you can find a spare box somewhere, load up a Linux distribution. No matter what anyone says, installing linux can be tough. so if everything doesn't seem straightforward, persist.

I've found Mandrake to be relatively easy, and usually successful, especially on newish hardware, but others will have their own views. Red Hat/Fedora, Debian, SUSE distributions should also work fine with OpenACS and have adherents here. Other nominations welcome.

Then follow the OpenACS intsall  instructions (rather daunting but comprehensive). (

If you don't want to do that, you could get a hosted OpenACS site to play with. I use and recommend Acornhosting for a low cost/ low volume site ( so I suggest contacting cathy -at-

There are other hosting company options try

Tutorial in the main documentation,( problem sets in Jade Rubick has numerous useful articles ( notably (

The basics are that content is in *.adp files, SQL in *.sql files (Oracle or Postgres) and functionality in *.tcl files.
If you're coming from MS Access, remember that Postgres is client/server, so you can access postgres databases from MS Access using an ODBC connection (with a few tweaks). But you shouldn't need to.

Hi Glenn,

much as I dislike Windows servers, there is no reason why you shouldn't use Windows. We've recently gone live with an OpenACS on Oracle on Windows site. Jamie Rasmussen has written up everything you need to know (including AOLserver exes) to get started at

I can't see any point in increasing your learning curve by tackling Linux at this point. It can be tricky enough to start developing for the web without having to wreck your head learning a new operating system. Use Windows until you know what you're doing, then consider moving to Linux. I love Linux and would love to see everybody using it over Windows, but I love OpenACS more, and don't want the OS to be a barrier for people.

best wishes,

On the contrary, there is very big reason not choose to run OpenACS on Windows unless you really need too: Nearly no one else does. Virtually everyone hacking on OpenACS runs it on Linux or some other Unix-like system. Yes, it's entirely possible to run OpenACS on Windows, but it has its own difficulties which as a newbie, you're probably best off avoiding.

Also, Jamie did not necessarily write up everything you need to know about running OpenACS on Windows. He has said himself that even the newer version of his docs are not entirely complete. If you use his old compiled binaries of everything, his info is likely to have everything you need. However, if you need anything that's not there though (like say the latest bug-fixed version of nsopenssl), you will be right back into the "mucking with the infrastructure" hell which you were trying to avoid in the first place. Except now you'll be doing it on Windows where fewer people can help you. (I do use AOLserver on Windows regularly - although not OpenACS - so I have some idea what I'm talking about here.)

Now, there is a nontrivial amount of infrastructure setup work to get the software OpenACS needs installed and working. This is true even if you are familar with Unix, but is obviously much worse if you are not.

Glenn, therefore, as others mentioned above, the fastest and easiest way for you to get up to speed is probably to use John Sequeira's VMware image with everything pre-installed. You can run that VMware image on Windows or Linux, your choice. And since everything is pre-installed, you get to focus on learning OpenACS development right off, rather than learning the annoying sysadmin side of things. (You can go back and learn that stuff later, as needed.)

In some ways, the VMware image is much better than even someone handing you an actual Linux box with everything pre-installed, because you can move the image back and forth between your Windows laptop and Linux server, if you seriously break anything you can just revert the entire image to your last saved snapshot, etc.

Another good alternative might be the Knoppix live-CD Linux images somebody made (Malte?), again with OpenACS pre-installed.

Note that I'm recommending the OpenACS VMware images or Live CDs even though I've never tried them myself. In the old aD Bootcamps, you showed up on Monday and sat down in front of an already working ACS system that someone else had installed, and I found that a good way to start learning how to actually write code with the toolkit. And being handed a virtual machine with everything you need for OpenACS pre-installed is pretty similar to that bootcamp setup.

Going with a Dev server at Acorn Hosting is also a good suggestion, as that completely elimintes the "install Linux" work, and should eliminate much (but not all) of the "install software and get stock OpenACS up and running" work as well.

Hi Glenn,

it seems there are more and more people running Windows, and there are some convenient installation tools around now. I've been checking them quite in detail, because I'm trying to build a Windows installer for really unskilled users.

Here are the options:

- The easiest is Vlassis's Rizopoulos installer at that comes with AOLServer, Cygwin, PostgreSQL, OpenACS 5.1.1 and optionally dotLrn. Just a few clicks and you are done.

- Jamie Rasmussen has a cute installer on ( on Just add an OpenACS 5.1.2 (5.1.1 doesn't work) tar ball and PostgreSQL 8.0.beta2dev3 from and you get there as well. The native PostgreSQL 8.0 is considerably faster then the CygWin version from Vlassis

- Follow the install guide. For _really_ advanced guys only.

- I'm currently developing an installer with Inno Setup (thanks to a hint from Jamie) and with a CyWin installation script from Vlassis'. You can check it out on Monday, Nov 15th on It's designed for complete dumb-dudes...

So no, I don't believe there is any reason anymore for not using Windows in a development environment. It's more clumsy to work with Windows though. WinCVS still has a bug with some binary files (GIFs may come up strangely) and try TextPad for editing. But that's it.

However, the situation is different for a production environment. There are some guys who are running Windows productively (Hi Mike! 😊, but downtimes are longer and there just isn't the comfort for working remotely. Security shouldn't be an issue though, because AOLServer is sufficiently "obscure" on both Linux and Windows...

Good luck!