Late last night — because late night is the time to tinker with software! — I decided to test drive Dave Winer’s recent crib sheet on setting up an Amazon Web Services cloud-based server. Dave called it “EC2 for Poets” (EC2 is the name of Amazon’s service), and I’ve always been a fan of “Physics for Poets”-style course offerings, so — though I do not write poetry — he lured me in.
For the uninitiated, Amazon has set up a relatively simple way for anyone to purchase and operate a “virtual server” — a software-based computer system running in their datacenter that you access across the Net. It’s like your own Windows or Linux box except there’s no box, just code running at Amazon. If you’ve ever run one of those arcade video-game emulators on your home computer, you get the idea: it’s a machine-within-a-machine, like that, only it’s running somewhere else across the ether.
Dave provided crystal clear step-by-step instructions for setting up and running one of these virtual servers. (Writing instructions for nonprogrammers is, as they say in software-land, non-trivial. So a little applause here.) The how-to worked hitch-free; the whole thing took about a half-hour, and by far the longest part was waiting for Amazon to launch the server, which took a few minutes.
But what should one do with such a thing? Dave’s sample installation runs a version of his OPML editor, an outlining tool. That gave me an idea.
Regular readers here know of my dependence on and infatuation with an ancient application called Ecco Pro. It’s the outliner I have used to run my life and write my books for years now. It has been an orphaned program since 1997 but it still runs beautifully on any Win-32 platform; it’s bulletproof and it’s fast. My one problem is that it doesn’t share or synchronize well across the Net (you need to do Windows networking to share it between machines, and I just don’t do that, it’s never made sense to me, as a one-man shop with no IT crew).
But what if I were running Ecco on an Amazon-based server? Then I could access the same Ecco document from any desktop anywhere — Macs too. So I downloaded the Ecco installer (using a browser running on the Amazon-server desktop, which you access via the standard Windows Remote Desktop Connection tool), ran it, and — poof! — there it was, a 12-year-old software dinosaur rearing its ancient head into the new Web clouds:
What you see here in the innermost window is Ecco itself (displaying some of the sample data it installs with). Around that is the window framing the remote desktop — everything in there represents Windows running in the cloud. The outermost frame is just my own Windows desktop.
This remains very much in Rube-Goldberg-land at this point. Accessing this remote server still requires a few more steps than you’d want to go through for frequent everyday use. (To me it felt like it was about at the level that setting up your own website was in 1994 when I followed similar cribsheets to accomplish that task.) And the current cost of running the Amazon server — which seems to be about 12.5 cents per hour, or $3 a day, or over $1000 a year — makes it prohibitive to actually keep this thing running all the time for everyday needs.
On the other hand, you have to figure that the cost will keep dropping, and the complexity will get ironed out. And then we can see one of many possible future uses for this sort of technology: this is where we’ll be able to run all sorts of outdated and legacy programs when we need to access data in different old formats. Yesterday’s machines will virtualize themselves into cloud-borne phantoms, helping us keep our digital memories intact.
- March 24, 2009 @ 10:18:24 [Current Revision] by Scott Rosenberg
- March 24, 2009 @ 10:17:25 by Scott Rosenberg
I’ve recently setup EC2/Win to run QuickBooks. Quick Books actually has an online version, but the Desktop version has much better usability and for a small business that does bookkeeping infrequently, it may even be cheaper.
LOL! Not a use case I would have thought of for EC2, but it makes total sense. My biggest concern would be latency over the internet with remote desktop.
“Yesterday’s machines will virtualize themselves into cloud-borne phantoms” – nice.
I was worried about latency too but the desktop was pretty responsive. Also ECCO was engineered for such slower systems that it’s extremely snappy these days, even under these circumstances I guess.
>But what should one do with such a thing?
There are many things one can do with EC2 …
I currently use Amazon EC2 to test WS-BPEL processor prototypes. This required bundling a custom AMI that supports Twisted and Stackless Python.
>And the current cost of running the Amazon server — which >seems to be about 12.5 cents per hour, or $3 a day, or over >$1000 a year — makes it prohibitive to actually keep this thing >running all the time for everyday needs.
Assuming you are running a paying service, whether the cost is prohibitive depends on your service’s price and cost structure.
However one of the ideas behind EC2 is to provide clients with readily available computer resources to handle unexpected or seasonal rises in demand.
Scott, that’s brilliant. But it makes me think you could do the same thing for free in a VM running on a spare machine at home that was facing the internet … a virtual windows 98 installation would hardly use any resources in a modern machine.
Andrew F: Right, the fee structure makes sense for many sorts of applications. But keeping a personal PIM program running 24/7 for an individual’s convenience probably isn’t one of them — that’s all I meant in discussing the cost.
Andrew B: Yeah. Of course I *could* do that. But it would be so much less fun :-)
Ecco Pro for Cell Phones: Scott, did John ever go further than initial install of Ecco under Linux? Nokia has just released a cell phone running Linux, and both Motorola & HTC offer Android phones (I gather Android is Linux-based). I’m guessing none of them would have the horsepower to run Ecco under Crossover/Wine.
I’d love to run a PDA with Ecco, and this looks like the only way it’ll ever happen. That or a very small notebook.
Problem is, no PDA or cell phone offers anything close to Ecco’s functionality.
James, I had the same idea recently but then it came to my mind that Ecco Pro was compiled for x86 platforms and the cell phones I know of have different processors. Not 100% sure, but doesn’t that mean that Ecco Pro can’t be run on Linux powered cell phones thruogh WINE?
Ecco 16bit runs standard ecco 32 bit files. So, any EMULATION of MS DOS that will support windows 3.1, will run the Ecco 16bit which can share data directly with ecco32 bit.
so long as x86 is EMULATED– even just as far as MS DOS Windows 3.1 emulation… Ecco would be able to run.
@David Vydra, are you still running Quickbooks on EC2? I was thinking of doing the same thing for a small non-profit. Does the VM need to be left on 24/7 to allow it to be accessed easily by Remote Desktop? That would certainly make it cost prohibitive. Or does the clock stop running when you log out?
Has anyone managed to run Ecco on Android ?
If so, please tell us how.
I’m currently using MyPhoneExplorer, Ecco Edition, but I’d prefer to have the full outlining capabilities on my phablet or tablet (to be).
I also had a love affair with Ecco Pro. Probably the software that got me interested in productivity in the first place. If it works on Windows 10, I’d almost swap back to a windows laptop …