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Cold Fusion 4.5 for Linux: A Review

Addressing the Enterprise

November 14, 1999

One of the biggest criticisms of Linux in the IT world is the lack of available robust server-side applications. Sure, you have Apache and sendmail, but you don't have the wide range of server products, like application servers and database-management products, that you do in the Solaris and Windows NT world.

By and large that's true, but more and more server-software vendors are realizing that Linux support is a smart business proposition, provided there are accompanying software tools to fit specific needs. The latest entry in the Linux enterprise-software field is Cold Fusion 4.5 for Linux. Allaire pioneered the application-server field, and with this upcoming release, Linux should be considered as a serious player in the enterprise-server market. Cold Fusion 4.5 for Linux joins IBM's WebSphere and BEA's WebLogic as a serious enterprise-level application server that runs on Linux.

We downloaded Cold Fusion 4.5 from the beta site a few weeks ago and put it through its paces. Despite its status as beta software, Cold Fusion 4.5 was stable and surprisingly useful software. Anyone who's used Cold Fusion in the past should have no problems finding their way around this new release. By and large, most older Cold Fusion applications should work with minimal modifications in 4.5.

One of the biggest past criticisms of Cold Fusion is that it was developed originally and exclusively for the Windows platform, but with version 4.5 Cold Fusion is extended with native Linux and Sun Solaris support. (An HP-UX release is planned for the first quarter of 2000.)

However, the Linux support isn't as extensive as we'd like: currently Allaire supports Cold Fusion 4.5 only on Red Hat Linux 6.0 or 6.1 running Apache HTTP Server 1.3.6 or 1.3.9. (To use this technology requires some small changes in your Linux configuration: you must have the ksh shell installed, and you must compile in some optional modules into Apache.) That's a shame, considering that the clustering technologies in TurboLinux or the sheer performance of Slackware Linux would be perfectly suited to an application server in an enterprise situation.

Our hope is that Allaire puts some effort into making sure that Cold Fusion 4.5 runs on a wide variety of Linux distributions (an effort to do so, according to the Allaire Cold Fusion release notes, is currently underway). On the Windows platform, Cold Fusions 4.5 works with a variety of technologies, including any Web server running a Common Gateway Interface (CGI), and that wide variety of support should be replicated in the Linux and UNIX worlds.

In addition, Allaire sees Linux as a server platform, not as a development platform. Allaire separately sells Cold Fusion Studio, a package for developing Cold Fusion applications, only in a Windows version. (This is too bad, as Cold Fusion Studio is a great development platform, providing support for JavaScript as well as support for object middleware like COM and CORBA.) But except for a few features (for instance, the Verity indexing engine and the Allaire Forums discussion software don't run under Linux, and there are some security differences that we'll cover later in this review), system administrators shouldn't see a big difference between the Linux and Windows versions of Cold Fusion.

The lack of Linux support isn�t the only criticism that Allaire addresses with version 4.5. A pleasant surprise is the added emphasis on Java within Cold Fusion. In the past, Cold Fusion was built around a proprietary markup language, CFML, that never really gained wide acceptance outside the Cold Fusion audience. While we're not going to get into a deep discussion of the CFML markup language--Cold Fusion devotees defend it in much the same manner as Tcl devotees defend Tcl and Perl devotees defend Perl--it was clear that if Cold Fusion were to ever gain a wider acceptance in the application-server world (where Java now reigns) it would need to address Java support at some point.

And that time is now.