Tonight I wanted to give an open source project a try, and the project is not easy to set up on Windows. Usually that's OK, I just log into a RedHat 9 box I have access to and install it on there. Well, that didn't really work out for this project, since RedHat 9 is old and missing a lot of packages. So I'd have to compile basically everything it depends on, since there are no RPMs available for RH 9 anymore for newer software.
In trying to figure out if there were any other options, I contemplated Virtual PC for a minute or two, or trying to coax an Ubuntu partition on a second machine back to life. Both of these would have taken hours, and I already blew probably 15-20 minutes on figuring out this wasn't going to fly on RH9.
Then I came across a wiki post about the project that described someone saving off an EC2 instance for people to try. After about 5 minutes of trying to find Amazon's awful Java toolset on my machine (since no Java apps come with installers on Windows), I discovered ElasticFox. It was perfect! I just entered in my EC2 login information, selected the public EC2 instance the wiki mentioned (which ElasticFox lists right there), and fired it up. A minute later I'm using the open source app! I played with it for a couple hours, downloaded a couple SVN branches to the instance to see some additional code, then shut down the instance (deleting all of the data). My total bill is $0.20. Hey, $0.20 to save all of that time dealing with crappy linux installs.
I never really had thought of this before tonight, but all open source projects should start doing this -- where applicable, i.e. non-GUI server projects like JBoss, Rails, Django, etc. It would make it so much easier to try some of this software than to look up instructions on what you need for your distro, then download all of that crap with apt-get/yum or rebuild stuff that isn't available when you have an older distro.
EC2 and S3 have gotten kind of a bad rap because spammers are using EC2 and S3 had a massive outage about a week ago. However the tech is relatively new and people are only starting to scratch the surface with them. There will be bumps. Now if we could just run Windows in an EC2 instance. Looks like Microsoft might make that work before Amazon.