Once you’ve merged and edited your httpd.conf file and told Vision for Apache where some files and directories are located, the main Vision for Apache window appears. The layout of various tabs is pretty good, and it flows in a very logical way. Even novice Apache administrators would be able to find their way around.
The user interface is fairly intuitive but requires that the user have at least a minimal understanding of Apache, so that, for example, they understand the concept of Apache “sections” (Apache directives such as VirtualHost that wrap other Apache directives). I found it very easy and straightforward to add and configure VirtualHosts or adjust other Apache settings.
There is a nice Help window providing a nugget-sized description of the directives as you use them, a very useful feature. Vision for Apache also takes advantage of Apache’s DSO capability (if compiled in) and allows you to enable modules on the fly. Of particular note, creating .htaccess and .htpasswd files (for access control) was very easy and intuitive.
Vision for Apache has a vast knowledge of Apache directives. I didn’t test to see if it would “forget” the newer directives in 1.3.9 if I downgraded to Apache 1.3.6, for example. Of course, as newer versions of Apache are released, Vision for Apache must be updated to become aware of the new directives.
Once you’ve made your changes, Vision for Apache goes ahead and rebuilds your httpd.conf as required. It uses comment formatting rules to allow for various entries to be disabled (for example, disabling one particular vhost) without losing those settings, so you can easily reenable them later. There is a basic syntax checker as well, so obvious mistakes in httpd.conf are flagged. After that, you restart Apache to have the changes take effect.
I thought this was a nice, professional package. Because it’s written in Java, I found it a bit slow, but certainly not slow enough to be unusable or even bothersome. Of course, the speed of your machine will be a factor here. It provides a clean and logical front end, as well as some useful tools to assist the administrator. While it won’t change the minds of those of us who prefer using a text editor to make changes, it might be just the ticket for those who get queasy just thinking about vi or emacs.
That initial merging and editing of the httpd.conf is a black mark in the whole process, however. I can envision that turning off some people, but this only affects those who already have a running setup. For first-time users, Vision for Apache could ship with a pre-edited httpd.conf for that initial setup. Focus Array should seriously consider providing that option.
In the end, Vision for Apache goes a long way towards supplying an Apache GUI that meets the requirements of many people.
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