DesktopServer? Money Well Spent!

Getting things done correctly and quickly

No matter what people tell you, moving a WordPress website or, worse, merging and then moving websites is not an easy thing to do. It becomes especially cumbersome if your website or websites are on a shared hosting plan which only allows reduced script time or places other limitations on your administrative tasks.

So, when I decided to merge two relatively simple separate websites into one, deus62.de into deus62.com, I decided to opt for a software solution that could help me get things done correctly and quickly. Finding one was not very difficult because I had bookmarked DesktopServer by ServerPress when it was recommended by several of the WordPress sites I frequent and trust. The latter is especially important as many – actually most – plugin review sites are, unfortuntely, little more than honeypots designed to generate affiliate income.

I downloaded the free (“limited”) version to see what it could do and when ServerPress’ Halloween discount of 20% rolled around for the premium version, I hit the “Add to Cart” button, simply because my trial run had gone so well. I am not a developer. I just wanted to merge and move websites once, so the Halloween discount was the right offer for my scenario at the right time, bringing down the price to somewhere around 75 Euro for – hopefully – none of the many serious headaches I came away with in the past.

I remained skeptical to the end, simply because so many things can go wrong (and have gone wrong for me in the past) when you attempt to do what I was about to do. As it turned out, I needn’t have worried, but my trial run had to be stopped short before I was ready to deploy my newly merged website because that function is reserved for the premium version.

What does DesktopServer (Pro) do?

DesktopServer installs a virtual WordPress optimized server on your own PC/Mac, which allows you to setup and manage (unlimited) WordPress websites (also multisite installations) as if you had them online somewhere. In my case, it also allowed me to do much more complex importing and exporting runs that the limits placed on my shared hosting plan quit with a string of increasingly nasty error messages. When your work is done, Desktopserver will deploy the finished site(s) to a live or subdomain website with little more than the click of a button.

Merging two sites and deploying to a live server

  1. Installation: First, I installed DesktopServer on my PC (that takes a while because DesktopServer is pretty complex software), set up a development website with it, installed all the plugins I had on both websites and made sure that all the website settings (including the theme I used for both sites) were identical on my development site.
  2. Export/Import: Then I exported everything from both of my websites and imported both files (including media, etc.) into my development website running on DesktopServer. The previous trial run had shown that there would be minor hiccups (“failed to import …”) if one plugin and my theme weren’t identical to what I had online (a problem that is related to the chronically unreliable WordPress import/export plugin and not to DesktopServer), so on the second run everything went smoothly because my development site mirrored everything perfectly.
  3. Checking & Streamlining: I then spent a couple of hours checking for errors (none present) and streamlining the new merged sites (tags, categories, etc.).
  4. Deploying: I have to admit that when the big moment arrived, the final act of deploying the development website, I was both skeptical and nervous, especially because in a moment of bravado, I decided to deploy right on top of my live website, something inexperienced users should never (!) do. I told Desktopserver to do its thing by providing the website credentials. For those about to embark on a similar journey, this is the moment where you need patience! Getting my site ready for deploynment (“scrubbing”) took a lot longer than I had anticipated and at times, the open program window seemed to be unresponsive, doing nothing. Then, suddenly, the progress bar (as mentioned in the help docs) started to move slowly, but steadily. After 50% I began to relax and at 99% I hoped nothing would go wrong in the last second.
  5. Final Check: When completed, first a quick and then a detailed check revealed that everything was as it should be. No hiccups whatsoever (and, if I may add, for the first time ever in my WordPress life)!
  6. Done!

I do have quite a bit of experience doing more convoluted tasks on WordPress more or less successfully, but I would consider myself to be at the lower end of the experience scale when it comes to tweaking the innards of WordPress. DesktopServer allowed me to circumvent my own shortcomings and made merging and moving websites a breeze. The regular price of (currently) $99.95 is a bit stiff for what I wanted to achieve, but DesktopServer is also meant for professional developers who regularly need to deploy development websites either for their clients or themselves. Still, even without the reduced price, I would have bought it because it saved me many hours of work and, most of all, because if what I had set out to do hadn’t worked, ServerPress offered a 30-day refund (if they can’t help you get things done).

Are there any negative aspects?

Three points I found a bit discouraging at first and I would assume novices might be turned off by them.

  1. First of all, whenever I tried to install DesktopServer (both the free and the pro version) on my PC, the installation routine (.exe) threw an immediate and nasty error. The installation didn’t even start properly. Googling around for the error, it quickly became apparent that I am not the only one who encountered this problem. The solution was also simple: ServerPress has a brief and concise help document online that describes the manual installation of DesktopServer which is so simple (basically you copy one large folder, start the server and unpack one file) that the aforementioned error was quickly forgotten.
  2. Secondly, the support documents could be better organized. If you want to find a solution quickly, having – for example – three documents outlining the deinstallation of DesktopServer (automated, manually for Windows and manually for Mac, including two links to similar documents on helpscout.net that most people don’t have access to … or that don’t exist any more?) is initially confusing. I also found the important details to be somewhat lost in, for example, a long document such as the one outlining the deployment using “direct deploy“. Also, searching for “deploy” will throw a whole bunch of seemingly important documents at you that might initially confuse a novice user as to which one (“How to Deploy Your DesktopServer Website Using Direct Deploy to a Live Server“, “How to Deploy Your DesktopServer Website Using Quick Deploy to a Live Server“, “DS-Deploy“, etc.) might possibly be the most relevant one. You need to study each one carefully to discover what it is you are looking for. Minor quibbles, I know, but I think excellent software like DesktopServer should be a bit more accessible via its otherwise complete support documents. Presently, too many are tl;dr and need to be streamlined.
  3. On top of that, I think deploying the site was a bit too scary when viewed from the perspective of a novice user. Although the docs mention that patience is needed (they tell you to get a cup of coffee while DesktopServer does its thing), I would have loved for the program’s window to be a bit more “verbal”. In my case, there wasn’t any visible response whatsoever for quite a while and I thought it had crashed (it did max out my Windows 7 PC with 8MB memory in the final scrubbing proceess before starting to deploy). Changing what is displayed every few minutes or so to give some visible feedback is something I would suggest if ServerPress is interested in attracting people who are not developers but just average WordPress users.

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Summary

Seventy-something Euro well spent. That’s a lot of money, but now that I know what the software can do, these Euro will be stretched even further by another couple of projects I have in mind for the software. Who knows? I might even renew my license after this one expires in 12 months because it’s a damn solid and handy tool.

What you are reading here, by the way, was deployed by DesktopServer yesterday!

DesktopServer gets my highest recommendation because at the end of the day, I had plenty of time to enjoy some fine wine instead of having to cry into a whole lot of stale beer.

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Relevant links for my scenario

  1. Server Press
  2. Download either the DesktopServer limited (free) or premium (paid) version
  3. Support Documentation for DesktopServer
  4. Manual Installation of DesktopServer on Windows
  5. Direct Deploy

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Disclaimer: I have absolutely no connection to ServerPress whatsoever (although I did start following them on Twitter when my project turned out well) and I didn’t and won’t get paid for this review. Unfortunately, this kind of disclaimer is needed because today, most WordPress review sites are trying to make money off every word they write.

Posted by Volkher Hofmann

Volkher Hofmann (deus62) has been blogging on and off since the 1990s and deus62.com is all that is left. He loves music, literature, drumming and, most of all, real life. He thinks the open web is much more important than social networks, closed-in ecosystems and other severely commercialized online endeavors.

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