Mapserver Up and Running
Well, after about a month of no progress in the Web GIS realm, i've finally got some progress to show! The openlayers map you are looking at below is consuming information from a Mapserver WMS, running on this site. In case you're also wondering, the data being displayed is actually a shapefile of the neighborhoods of beautiful Bellingham, WA.
This gets me back to where I was as part of my senior GIS project, with the very large exception that the data is being hosted 24/7 on a shared host, rather than an ubuntu-powered laptop on death's door. Well, 'what is the difference?' one might ask. Well, instead of having to tell someone, 'Hey, you interested person, sure you can view my WMS server. I'll turn my laptop on between the hours of 3-5PM. If the connection is slow, it could be because my wi-fi is dropping out. Or maybe because my roommates are playing Halo 3 on Xbox Live? Or maybe I'm watching a movie on netflix?' In any event, reliability is a plus.
So what got me over this hurtle? Well, it just so happens that instead of compiling all of these programs from the source, you can just install FWTools as an entire package right onto your website. Neat! As Aaron Racicot also pointed out in some post, it's necessary to add the, '.cgi' extension to the mapserv file, as dreamhost (my current hosting choice) requires the extension to be explicitly set.
This really opens the door to quite a bit of experimentation using OpenLayers and Mapserver together.
On a final note, compiling all those programs from source has had an added benefit not attainable with FWTools. That is, the use of command-line GRASS. Who knows when they'll be stuck, needing to do some GIS w/o an ArcDesktop install, but with an SSH terminal?