GuidesDoes Roxen Rock the Open Source World?

Does Roxen Rock the Open Source World?




Roxen WebServer has been around long enough to have three iterations of names: Spinner, Roxen Challenger, and now Roxen WebServer (for trivia buffs: Roxen is a lake in Sweden).

Looking for an open source Web server other than Apache? The latest version of Roxen WebServer is free, customizable, and easily managed. It also offers a mix of open source and proprietary opportunity.

There are roughly 30,000 Roxen WebServer installations out there, which is minuscule when compared to the number of Apache Web servers, but it is indicative of a fairly tight community that uses and supports this open source freeware Web server. The attraction, besides the fact that Roxen WebServer is open-source and free, is that the server can be extended and customized with specialized languages (Pike and RXML). Depending on the perspective, Pike and RXML may be considered a negative.

In most other respects, however, Roxen WebServer is an average performer with solid features.

Installation and Management

Installation of Roxen WebServer on a Windows platform is fully automated and quick; we assume the same is true for other platforms. Previous versions often ran-afoul of Sweden’s ban on exporting encryption routines, but as of July 1, 2001 this is no longer an issue. Multiplatform support (i.e., most Unix varieties, Linux, Windows 2000/NT, and Mac OS X) is one of Roxen’s more attractive attributes. Configuration and management of the server is completely browser-based, and we found the interface easy to use. Roxen is highly modular in design, and configuration largely consists of choosing which modules and features to enable.

Server Capabilities

Basic modules include FTP, proxy server, and mirror server. Within the Web server there is the usual support for standard CGI and Fast CGI, as well as support for Front Page Extensions and LDAP. Improvements in this version, include excellent direct linkage to MySQL databases and support for a variety of database types. Roxen WebServer’s security enforcement is adequate: Using standard htaccess it can require passwords, organize users by groups, and prohibit access by domain and IP address. It also supports strong 128/168-bit encryption through SSL3. Roxen WebServer maintains three types of logs: Access, Event, and Error, as well as separate logging by user, by browser, and by event.

One relatively unique feature of Roxen WebServer is its strong graphics engine, which has been improved in this version. The graphics engine provides image conversion of 20 file formats, it dynamically generates business graphics, and it has powerful tags for manipulating text and images for logos and headers.

Although Roxen WebServer is sparing of resources and can be made to scale through additional hardware, it doesn’t have features such as connection pooling or clustering support that would allow it to scale well for very large organizations. Nor does it have the management and control features needed to function well in a server farm environment. In our testing, Roxen WebServer’s performance was somewhat slower than that of an Apache server running similar loads.

Documentation and Support

The tutorials and documentation have improved, although we found the documentation to still be sparse in detail and examples when it came to advanced topics. Currently documentation is provided primarily online, although a PDF version is near completion.

Direct support from the Roxen company is generally limited to e-mail, although like most open-source products that have sizable a following, support is available from the user community. Roxen has done a good job of organizing access to the community, and it is definitely much less overwhelming to deal with a community this size than those of other open source monsters like Mozilla and Apache.

Customization

Although Roxen WebServer now supports Java (applets, servlets, and Java Server Pages) as well as Perl, these are not its native programming tools. Roxen WebServer is distributed with the source code in a language called Pike. This is a sort of C-like language (also open source) that sports commands and features specifically for a Web server. You can get a taste of Pike at http://pike.roxen.com. To extend or modify the server features, a sys admin must learn this language. In addition, the server uses the RoXen Macro Language (RXML — not related to XML) to augment HTML tags. This is similar in approach to tags developed for application servers (e.g., Macromedia ColdFusion).

Roxen WebServer is a stand-alone product and is widely used as such. However, the capabilities of Pike and RXML have attracted a number of third-party developers to create additional modules. In fact, it’s important to understand that Roxen itself makes its living from selling content management products that use Roxen WebServer. To a certain extent, some of the functionality of the server, such as the image manipulation, is tailored for the content management environment. As a result, Roxen WebServer has the flavor of an application development platform. In the scheme of things, Roxen Internet Software becomes another company that has customized use of Roxen WebServer for its salable modules.

This mix of open source and proprietary opportunity may, in fact, be the most appealing aspect of Roxen WebServer.

If you consider the Apache Web server to be mainstream open source, then Roxen WebServer will probably seem somewhat, well, eccentric. Although supporting familiar tools such as Perl and Java, users also must work with Pike and RXML. Perhaps this will attract the ultimate contrarian for whom Apache and its horde of supported products is simply too complex and popular.

On the other hand, Roxen wants your money for other products in its Roxen Platform, indicating that although the company’s heart may be in Roxen WebServer, its income isn’t. There is evidence that this makes support somewhat tepid. For Roxen WebServer we can’t say, “you pay your money and take your choice.” In this case, “it’s your learning curve,” is a closer description.

Pros: Free, Easy to manage, Relatively easy to customize

Cons: Not a top performer, Not very scalable at the high end, Not so great when it comes to tech support


This article was originally published on Apr 5, 2002

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Version Reviewed: 2.2

Date of Review: 4/4/02

Last Updated: 4/4/02

Reviewed by: Nelson King

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