Okay, I’ll admit it; I have “just a little” problem with boredom from time to time. My most recent boredom “project” is “Textpattern”:http://www.textpattern.com on a vps account with “Fivebean”:http://fivebean.com/account/aff.php?aff=120, hence the title, but I’ll get to that later.
A couple of months ago I was reading up on Windows Home Server. It’s actually pretty neat. Among other things, you can basically take an old outmoded computer, load it up with various hard drives you have sitting around and install Windows Home Server on it. Once installed, you can unhitch the monitor and run all the configurations you need in your browser from any other networked computer. What I like about it is the media server for streaming music and videos throughout your LAN (and over the internet), and the ability to install client software on your Windows computers on the LAN and have them auto-backup to the hard drives on the Windows Home Server.
But two things kept me from jumping on it: (1) it runs a little over $100 for the operating system and (2 – and more importantly) it would probably only consume around 2-3 hours of boredom time because it’s all too easy.
So instead we try to use linux to accomplish the same thing.
Since I’m most familiar with the ubuntu 9.10 desktop, I used the ubuntu 9.10 server for my home media server. I’m using “DYN-DNS”:http://www.dyndns.com/ to point one of their domains at my home ip address, so I was able to set up the new media server with a domain, basic postfix package, etc. Then I found some neat streaming content software called “MediaTomb”:http://mediatomb.cc/ which was extremely easy to set up. I ripped a bunch of my cds and copied them to the new server, made up playlists for them with Windows Media Player on the various windows machines on my soho LAN, and bingo, easy music everywhere. I’m still working on getting dvd playback, and I’m not able to backup up all the windows machines to the new server, but I’m auto-backing up the important one to “Backblaze”:http://www.backblaze.com/ . Etc., etc., etc.
Which brings me to “Fivebean VPS Hosting”:http://fivebean.com/account/aff.php?aff=120 . I stumbled across the link in one of my forums and decided to check it out. For those who *don’t* have too much time on their hands, VPS, virtual private server is just another way to host a website, if that’s what you want it for. One difference of virtual over shared hosting is that you’re on a machine with 3 or 4 other accounts in your own private virtual environment. It’s similar to installing something like Virtualbox on your home or work computer so that you can install a different operating system on it and access that OS anytime without rebooting. On Fivebean and other vps hosts, there are a small number of virtual accounts, each running their own operating system and directly connecting to the internet.
With virtual hosting, you pay for exactly how much RAM and disk space you’re getting and you don’t get any more. So (if I understand this right), if 4 people have virtual accounts on one server, and one of the people starts a runaway process that would normally slow down or crash an entire computer, it actually only slows down/crashes his virtual account. If he signed up for 256 megs of RAM, that’s all he can abuse with a runaway process. On a shared server with 8 or 10 (or more) hosting accounts, activity on any of the accounts can slow the whole machine down, thus slowing down everybody on the machine.
Shared hosting might be antiquated, but I have several business domains in that environment and it’s working fine; I’m on a quality, pricier host with an excellent network setup. I really only opened an account with “Fivebean”:http://fivebean.com/account/aff.php?aff=120 to check it out and because of the aforementioned boredom factor. (So far I’ve been pleasantly surprised)
That said, with a vps, you’re root, not just a login. Hell, I’m root on my home and work computers, so that’s not a huge thrill to me, but it does allow me to choose my operating system and install exactly what I want.
Soooo, I chose Ubuntu 9.10 server because that’s what I’m used to. You select it as one of the choices from the Fivebean web interface and it loads up already installed. I should mention, my initial Fivebean account was “bean” level with 128 megs of RAM at $6/mo. In reality, that’s fine for a file server or a mail server, but I really wanted to run Apache2 with PHP and MySQL. I soon found out that I needed more RAM. So I upgraded to a “Starter” account with 512 megs of RAM and 50 gigs of disk space for $15.20/mo.
I installed my web-server software following this “excellent tutorial”:http://www.howtoforge.com/perfect-server-ubuntu-9.10-karmic-koala-ispconfig-2-p3 . Actually page 1 has really good advice for setting up the basic server. But beyond that, I installed only what I needed for the web. I pointed one of my unused domains toward my new experimental server and adjusted the basic configuration in the Fivebean web interface called “Moxie”. Moxie is very easy and allows you to do all the basic stuff you need. If you want something more complicated and easy to configure like cpanel, you can add that, but for me, Moxie was enough.
I needed a mail server for sending messages from the site I was going to build, and I chose postfix, which I’ve set up a bunch of times at home. However, since this mail server was not going to be behind a firewall, I set up sasl authentication, for safety’s sake and that was a touch more complicated. I ran into a few glitches, because of the complexity, most of them because of typos, but I eventually got it running. The easiest basic tutorial I recommend is “here”:https://help.ubuntu.com/community/Postfix . If you don’t want to waste time setting up your own mail server, go with shared hosting or something similar. But as I said, the original goal here was to consume boredom time, and postfix worked very well toward that end.
Next, and finally, I needed something to put on my shiny new web server. I decided to go with “Textpattern”:http://textpattern.com/ because I was a little familiar with it. “A little familiar” is no stretch. I have no problem installing it, but I never really got used the the txp markup that you need to master if you’re going to do anything beyond the very basic. Actually, the very basic works pretty well, as this site can attest.
But as far as the boredom project goes, Textpattern is a good starter. Particularly when you want to turn it from a blog into a commerce site with a shopping cart and products. As it turns out, there is an excellent shopping cart “plugin”:http://textpattern.org/plugins/953/yab_shop for Textpattern which actually works.
So I set up the basic server on Fivebean with Apache2/MySQL/PHP and Postfix. Then I created a single empty table database in MySQL using basic code (just google it; it’s easy). Since I’m root on the machine, I called the database textpattern and it’s location was ‘localhost’. I loaded up the unzipped textpattern download to my web server and ran the setup script from a web browser. As usual, it found the empty database and populated it, and set up perfectly ready for me to customize it. I downloaded the Yab_shop plugins and stuck them in the plugins area and hit the install button. Bingo, the installation of the plugins were trivial, and there were no errors.
I had to use the Yab_shop forum “thread”:http://forum.textpattern.com/viewtopic.php?id=26300 to get it up and running because I’m not really familiar with customizing textpattern, so that consumed some time (yes!) but I eventually got it working.
It interfaces easily with Paypal, and I added merchant services to my account there, so I went about making that happen. It involved an easy tutorial from Paypal on how to create an ssl certificate if you’re root on your own machine (yes! again – thanks Fivebean). And the rest is history as they say.
So far I’ve added one product. It worked fine originally, but I wasn’t getting the test orders mailed to me, which goes back to the trouble I had initially getting postfix to work, but it all works now. Because I actually work, which consumes quite a few hours in itself, this boredom project lasted about 2 weeks. But I’m not done yet! I have to add a bunch of products to my new ecommerce site, promote it, etc. and start making money!