Update: StackVM is now called Browserling.

Hey everyone,

I have awesome news! I am doing a startup together with James Halliday!

I met James on FreeNode several years ago and it turned out that we had very similar ideas about doing great hacking. So we teamed up as equal co-founders to do a startup. We're on different continents but we use IRC, GitHub and WeDoist to get stuff done!

Check out an early demo of our software:

StackVM brings virtual machines to the web. Join #stackvm on FreeNode to discuss!

The startup we're doing is called StackVM. StackVM makes virtual machines much more accessible over the web, makes them easier to use, and makes them embeddable in webpages (like putting a virtual machine in a blog post). This is just the first step that we're starting with. Next we're making networking between them very easy, just drag and drop to create any virtual network topology you want, with firewalls, switches, etc. (fun for hacking competitions and learning networking). Then we're making what we call "vmcasts" - much like a screencasts, except the computation is recorded, meaning that at any point you can break into the playing vmcast and change the course of computation (and return back to it later).

Our plan is to host the virtual machines and our awesome software for you, so that you don't have to worry about anything. We'll make sure it all works! At the moment we're actually already at our third major iteration of the software.

Here are a few use cases:

  • Suppose you're selling software and you want your users to try it before they buy it. Perfect use of StackVM - put your software in the virtual machine and embed it on your products page. The potential customers can try your software before they buy it right from your website!
  • Suppose you're an application developer and have written a program that should work cross-platform. You can easily rent 10 virtual machines with Linux, Windows, MacOS, and other operating systems and test your software. Just drag and drop it into the virtual machines, and you can test your software!
  • Suppose you want to teach someone how to work in Perl in a series of blog posts (like I do), you can embed the terminal with a vmcast in your blog post, and everyone can follow your tutorial, and also try out the examples interactively, in a real shell!
  • You can build a virtual honeypot network and have hackers break into it, then analyse how they did breakins. Or, you can build a huge network and learn routing and networking concepts!
  • Suppose you want to share your work with a group of people. You can easily do it in stackvm! Just send the other people link to your VM and they can connect to it with any web browser. They'll be able to see what you're doing, comment on your work, and if you allow fix your bugs (think pair programming!)

Hosting virtual machines requires a lot of infrastructure, so we plan to start collecting revenue as soon as possible with affordable paid user accounts. We're not going to do the common nonsense among startups of first building up the project for years and only then trying to figure out how to make it profitable. We're going to offer virtual machines together with an awesome interface and features to them as a monthly paid service from the day we launch. We're also going to have an open API to our software, so that you can build on top of it or customize it (for example script virtual machines to do something specific).

We're also testing out the idea of complete openness with this startup. It's going to be 100% open-source and 100% idea-open, meaning that anyone can read what we're up to, and run our code if they want to run stackvm on their own. So far we have shared all the code on github (my stackvm repo, James's stackvm repo) and documented most of the ideas and experiments on stackvm github wiki.

We're applying for YC funding later this year so that we can focus on hacking and not paperwork.

Now a little bit about the tech we use at StackVM. I won't go into much details right now because many of the future posts will detail the tech at StackVM.

At the moment StackVM is in its 3rd major iteration already and is almost entirely built on node.js. Since we're doing everything open-source, we've written a bunch of reusable node.js modules:

  • dnode - Simple asynchronous remote method invocation for node.js.
  • node-bufferlist - Abstraction of node.js's buffers and monadic binary parsing.
  • node-rfb - Implements the client-side of the RFB protocol that VNC uses.
  • node-png - Produces PNG images from RGB or RGBA values.
  • node-jpeg - Produces JPEG images from RGB or RGBA values.
  • node-video - Records Theora/Ogg videos from RGB values.
  • node-base64 - Encodes binary data to base64 to send across websockets and ajax.
  • node-jsmin - Minify JavaScript on the server side, before sending it to the browser.
  • node-bufferdiff - A module to compare two buffers quickly.

I'll keep everyone updated on the progress and technical insight into our development. If you're not yet subscribed to my posts, please do it - catonmat rss feed. Going to make this happen!

And if you want to talk about our software, come join #stackvm on FreeNode!