Very recently, we announced the availability of the Microsoft Web Platform Installer (Web PI) in Beta. If you remember, this is a tool that allows you to obtain and install Web server components, development tools and database technologies to implement an integrated Web platform for your development or hosting environment, and that provides end-to-end functionality to support ASP.NET, PHP, and other types of Web application.

And speaking of applications, what do you do once you have this integrated Web platform in place and you’re ready to get an e-commerce, content management, community discussion, or personal presence site online? You could always build one from scratch, and with ASP.NET and Visual Web Developer 2008 SP1 Express in place, you have a great set of tools to help you, but wait – don’t many of these applications already exist in the community? Why build something that already exists? But where do you get those applications? And how do you install and configure them?

That’s where the Web Application Installer (or “Web AI” – not to be confused with Haley Joel Osment’s home page) comes in. Web AI is a companion to Web PI, and is a single installer that runs on Windows Vista or Windows Server 2008 to download, install and configure many popular community and open source applications on IIS 7.0. Available applications include DotNetNuke, Drupal, Gallery, Graffiti, osCommerce, PHPBB, and WordPress, with more on the way.

Web AI downloads each application from its original source, so if the application is updated, you know that Web AI will be pointing to the latest and greatest bits. In addition, Web AI will check for the presence of prerequisite components before installing the application, and after installation, it will offer configuration pages so that you can set up an associated database (another great reason why we included both SQL Server 2008 Express and the SQL Server driver for PHP in Web PI) and if needed, personalize your application by entering credentials and setting application options.

Remember, this is just a beta release, so you can expect to see more functionality and even greater integration as we update this tool in the months to come. And as with Web PI, we have created a Web AI forum where you can discuss Web AI and provide feedback or make suggestions to us, so do let us know what you think.

David Lowe.