Shopping for a webhost

This document is now significantly stale. I put it together the last time I went shopping, and after making my decision to go with Westhost, I've been a happy customer of theirs for two years and counting. If you check them out and decide to go with them, I'd be happy for you to give me a referral credit.

When Earthlink's "free" 6MB of webspace bundled with their dialup account got too cramped, I started shopping for a new webhost. I wasn't against a combined ISP/webhost, I just didn't find one that worked for my situation. The table has gone through a few iterations, and I'm leaving Westhost as the reference column - they're the ones I chose, and so far (a month or so in), I'm happy with the deal. (If you choose them, I'd be happy to have you tell them I referred you.)

Among my requirements were SSI, cron, perl, CGI programming, and php and mySQL (although I'm not using those yet). Telnet/shell access was either a must or very strong want. Web control panels seem to be common features, even with shell access, and for some things they're nice, but I wouldn't want that to be my only interface.

One respondent mentioned Coastlandtech, and I've added them, based on what sounds like a very good deal, although their marketing is amateurish. ("Coastland Technologies is the only site a hobbies or small business should consider for hosting services," and a lame comparison page.)

I also saw a recent mention of webhostdir, which gives a more "professional" compilation... at least if you think blinking, flashing ads are professional. At least it should be more up to date than my table below - this was current in late 2000, a year ago. (Following their link to Westhost, I see you can get double the storage space with the coupon code WHDIR-09.)

    Westhost   Coastland   ACI Tech   Hostway   PCMagic   HostPro
Storage (MB) 25 75 150 50 75 200 5 200 50 40 100
BW (GB/mo) "unlimited"[1] 1 2 7 1 6 1 3
$/month 9 16 20 -- 13 20 -- 16 15 15 20
pd qtrly -- -- 12 19 10 16 12 --
pd yrly [2] 2.92 ! 10 17 9 14 8.25 --
Setup fee 19 0? 15 25 20 25 0 40
Domain registr 49 70[5] 70 70 70 70
Yr1 total 176[2] 260[2] 308[2] 105 205 300 198 263 170 290 350
Yr2 total 108 192 240 35 120 205 108 168 100 180 240
Fuzzy things [3] [6] [8] [3,10] [11]
POP3 accts 1[4] 5 15 1 "unlimited" 1 5 25 10
SSI/cgi-bin Y N Y
telnet/SSH Y Y On request Y Y N
perl Y ? Y Y Y N Y
cron Y ? On request With notice Y N
Log access[7] Y ($10 setup for referer) Y (incl. error) Y Y ($2/mo referer) Y ?
Mailing lists "unlimited" Y Y N 1[9] Y N
Unique IP addr "on request" ? Y ? Y Y
php Y ? Y N "optional" Y N Y
mySQL Y PostgreSQL Y N "optional" Y N Y
SSL/shop cart Y SSL Y N Y Y N

Table notes

  1. Unlimited JPEG, GIF, HTML. All other file types subject to 3GB/mo, $10/GB overage.
  2. 13th month free with initial annual prepayment.
  3. Gave fast, personal and effective email response to queries about details.
  4. $10 one-time fee for additional POP account
  5. They give instructions to go get your own, with a link to somebody offering $15? that didn't work. Year1 cost figured with $70 added.
  6. As they say, "What some times looks good is not always as it seems."
  7. Referrer and error logs may not be included with "access to log files," or may have added setup and/or fees.
  8. Email response lacking.
  9. Majordomo with up to 100 subscribers. (Then what? $5/mo for an additional "majordomo"... list?) $1.50/mo for additional FTP accounts.
  10. Also offers dialup combination in "business acct.," $30/mo, $72/qtr, $198/yr. But no local # in Boise.
  11. Good documentation, reasonable email response, looks like a solid firm, but too pricey for me. Offered to waive the setup fee for the $55/mo Vserver Lite package. I'd consider them if I were running a business.

Shopping links and other vendors

CNET's page on "Basic Plans" looks like it might be helpful, with customizable filters for platform, data transfer, and price range. The following combines leads from that, ads in MicroTimes and a Google search for "webhosting comparison.", with a nice comparison chart of their plans, some with dialup services. (But no more detail past the chart, sigh.) Their hook is 500MB, which I'm sure most of the clients don't use. Their support email is in the "" domain.

O L M (On Line Marketing) has a more detailed and useful comparison table, with supporting links, including breaking out "referrer logs" (oh oh), cron, etc. The technical features I want come with the $14/mo 150MB (telnet/sh) and $19/mo 300MB (cron) versions, unfortunately.

Web Burner has 50MB/3GB for $13/mo, most? or all of what I'm after included, à la carte menu for more stuff. $40 setup, no domain name registration discount. Add $15/mo for dialup, with, which has a badly designed website, and connects via PSINet and or UUnet. Too much opportunity for finger-pointing argues against a combo deal with these folks. The upside is that those ISPs are big, and have numbers in Boise. (PSINet's pulldown didn't have Idaho, but clicking on the US map gave a Boise number for Idaho.)

PrimeMaster says their design services subsidize their hosting, so they don't need to make money, hmmm. Bit of risk they'll change their minds about it. "Dirt cheap" is 150MB for $7/mo (prepaid for 2 yrs + 90 days free) plust $25/yr for your domain name. $2/mo more for FrontPage extensions.

CQHost has a well-designed site, and an entry level hosting plan with 75MB/4GB for $12.50/mo (pd annually, $15/mo qtrly). The info page for each plan lists its details, alond with navigation links, graphics, etc., and it prints neatly on one page.) I gather that their "Web Control Panel" substitutes for direct shell access. They appear to have points of presence in the US and Europe, either a big company, or a good act. "Business web" with 200MB/6GB for $20/16.50/mo (qtr/annual)

Fat Cow web hosting, cute, in Albuquerque, NM. 100MB/5GB, domain name included, for $100/yr. Also uses the "control panel" approach, rather than telnet/sh access. They have all the other stuff I'm looking for (responded to my email query that 'cron' can be setup on request), with cgi-bin, an interface for testing scripts, but no shell access "due to security reasons." This was the cost leader (other than Primemaster's Dirt Cheap) until I heard about Coastland

Communications World Network has been advertising a "Personal/Family account" with no set-up fees, 5 email accounts, 50MB web page storage and unlimited 56k access, "Free Shell Account." $100/year prepaid. Also "Business Internet" for $120/yr, and a box for "$ Reseller Program $" and "Ask about our free internet access." Their website doesn't have evidence of the P/F acct., and shows that they combine a free portal, free access, business hosting, etc. The business hosting terms are lots pricier, with an à la cart menu. Maybe too many irons in the fire.

In response to my email asking if this offer was genuine, I got a terse reply: "It is real! You can call our toll free number to sign up when you are ready. 1-800-296-1112" It's probably just a coincidence that I got a spam from somebody with a return address, with no message and an .AVI file with "me nude" in the filename, today. One of the users' pages they featured greeted me with the time and date of my access, in the year 192000, and a sound file that changed speed as I scrolled the page. Geocities without the name recognition..., offering 60MB, $7/mo. Looks like a new provider with the economies of (and bias toward) the latest NT systems. It feels a little too new (and a little too cheap) for me to commit to.

A reader comments:
"I use Area Systems as an ISP and web host. Only $25 a month and I get a Unix shell account to boot."
These guys looks seriously techy, too bad they don't cover Idaho for dialup. For hosting, they're more than I want to pay, but check out this approach: We have a unique, relaxed attitude about disk space: "don't fill up the volume please."

New entry, siteturn, from another MicroTimes ad. 500MB and stuff, for $14/mo (based on annual subscription), "sign-up and get a free domain name." Looks to be control-panel based, I didn't seem mention of telnet. I had to go on to the "join now" page to check some of the specifics. The domain name's free for one year, $17.50/yr after that.

icom lost their place in the table with too many question marks, and no response to my email inquiry. Hostway is a new addition, with a good price on a 200MB package.

Tracerouting business models

Another reader suggested using "traceroute" to check to see if the company is buying their service wholesale and selling it retail. (If they have links or deals attracting resellers, they're probably a wholesaler.) They may purchase any or all of their Web hosting software, machines, data centers and technical support from a Web hosting wholesaler.

Yahoo! has a web front end to traceroute that you can use for this. The results may or may not give obvious answers, though. (for example) appears to be a reseller for Depending on the wholesaler's business model, you may or may not see a better offer direct from them.

Free, with no unpleasant advertising

There are lots of "free" alternatives, of course. I won't consider anything that pushes ads at me, personally, but your standards may be lower. There are some remarkable values to be had in the genuinely free domain.

One is, which uses an interesting browser-based editing interface called Manila. I've set up two sites with that, actually, and It has its pros and cons... one strange thing is that once set up you can't delete a site, which I would like to do with the editthispage site. It also has the attribute of being "easy to use" as long as you use it close to exactly the way it was set up. Customizing it varies from hard to very hard, from my point of view, and all the people involved with it just don't seem to "get" the strange irony of the "editthispage" meme juxtaposed with a cryptic, esoteric, and making-it-up-as-we-go-along XML interface.

I might have just made that my whole site, but the "no limits" seems to imply "no guarantees," and the lack of control wouldn't suit me; I really like have my whole site mirrored on my local machine, for testing, offline development, bulk processing, and so on.

Another is Free-Conversant, which has a variety of free and paid for hosting deals.

Look around under the "weblogging" idea, and you'll find more options.