Anyone in the UK using a .eu domain name for website / email? As the UK has left the EU these will be suspended & stop working on 01/01/2021, unless you are a citizen of an EU27 Member State, or reside in / are a legal entity in EU27 or EEA Member State:
I had a request the other day to find login details for the administrator of an old client website that we built for Dundee University in the earlier years of wideopenspace, the web design company I used to run. I hadn’t realised that the old client site was still up and running all this time after having been launched in 2006!
It was an amazing nostalgic blast-from-the-past to log in to the site’s control panel and see our custom-built content management system again! I’d kind of forgotten about the 100’s (actually, more like 1000’s!) of hours worth of time and effort that my business partner Andy and I put in to developing it and implementing it on client projects.
The CMS was called ‘Spacious’* and actually came in two versions, the full version with a multi-level navigation system and various custom modules and a ‘Spacious Lite’ version which was made for really small sites with single level navigation and also had access to certain modules.
When we started development of our CMS around 2004 we hadn’t really used any third-party CMS platforms (WordPress V1 actually came out in 2004 but it wasn’t really on our radar). Instead we wanted to make something that suited our own specific purposes and client needs. So we didn’t really look at how any other CMS’s were doing things but in a kind of intentionally-naive way built it to work how we wanted it to work for the sites we were building for clients.
We used Spacious for a quite a lot of sites and we actually tried to secure funding to enable us to develop it into a fully fledged CMS product to sell to other companies, but sadly we never succeeded in getting funded. Eventually we stopped developing Spacious and as a company we increasingly moved our focus to WordPress as a platform around about 2009 (probably WordPress 2.7 I think?).
Client budgets were getting tighter and awareness of open source systems like WordPress was increasing. As such it was getting harder to sell clients a licence for a commercial CMS so financially the time spent building and maintaining our own one made less and less sense.
From a development perspective I found that WordPress had a lot of technical similarities to how we’d chosen to structure our CMS. Spacious had similar concepts of posts and pages, a plugin system offering various functions like Events, Email contact forms, Staff directories (‘modules’ in Spacious’ terminology), comments and even a form of multisite that could run more than one site from a single installation. (Spacious had some really cool features built into it that I’m pretty proud of in retrospect!)
From a client-facing perspective I liked the simplicity of WordPress, it was cognitively easy to use – especially compared to the complexities of something like Joomla at the time (I remember seeing all the steps that an incoming new client had to go through to edit their existing site in Joomla and it was extremely complex and confusing!).
As WordPress became our main focus the list of live client sites running Spacious grew shorter. So it’s very cool to see not just one but actually two sites that are still live and running on Spacious after all this time!
* Originally we wanted to call it ‘Fabric’ and trademark it but we weren’t successful – that’s a whole other story!
I was reading a magazine at work this morning when I came across an advert for Microsoft Windows Server 2003. The advert is one in a series of ads that Microsoft has been running which aim to promote companies who have chosen Windows Server over Linux because it is more reliable.
Now, admittedly I am a Mac user and obviously this taints my perspective on all things Microsoft ;) but I have to admit I was a bit irritated by the advert. The headline of the advert is, ‘FASTHOSTS CHOOSES WINDOWS SERVER FOR WEB RELIABILITY‘, with a strap-line of ‘Reliability is key in the "Web Hosting Market"‘ (not quite sure why ‘web hosting market’ is in quotes!??).
Now, I’ve been a Fasthosts customer for over 6 years, and although I did host a few sites on Windows going back a few years, almost everything I have running now is on Linux. I use both a basic reseller package, which allows both Windows and Linux hosting, and also a dedicated server running Fedora Core 5 Linux. My annoyance with the advert is that I thought it gives the impression that all of Fasthosts runs on Windows Server 2003 when in reality they offer both Linux and Windows options for all their hosting packages, it’s just their Control Panel and website that runs on Windows Server 2003.
Not so fast…(hosts)
If I was Fasthosts I would be wary of the impression these adverts give out, it could potentially appear as if Fasthosts were not a very pro-Linux host, or even that Fasthosts don’t do any kind of Linux based hosting at all. Of course Fasthosts are the UK’s largest Microsoft hosting partner (and apparently the world’s largest Windows 2003 Server host) so I guess this kind of promotion is to be expected. But, Fasthosts, don’t forget there are plenty of people who prefer Linux over Windows.
When it comes to developing sites using open source software such as MySQL and PHP then the LAMP platform is undoubtedly the best for the job. Windows Server 2003 may be the best, most reliable way to run Windows technologies such as ASP.net etc but you need to choose the right tool for the job. I think in this particular case it was that Microsoft technologies made it much easier to create a system for Fasthosts to use to administrate the setup process for their domain registrations and web hosting. That’s not quite the same thing as saying the Windows Server is more reliable than Linux though.
Ok, rant over. I guess my main points are:
- Fasthosts don’t just provide Windows hosting.
- Linux is very, very reliable, despite what Microsofts marketing campaign might say.
- I prefer Linux to Windows.
- Don’t believe everything you read in adverts.
- I am, in fact, a fairly happy Fasthosts customer, despite this here rant.
This is a bit of a rant really, I’m just wondering when are the US companies going to come and give the UK hosting scene the shake-up it needs?
If you use US based hosting you get the following advantages:
- Cheaper prices
- Much bigger bandwidth allocations
- Much bigger diskspace allocations
- All inclusive features
- Great tech support (on the whole!)
My Hosting history
I started using a Fasthosts reseller account which I’ve now had for the last 6 years or so. It’s quite a good service, I can host as many accounts as I want, Windows or Linux, no bandwidth or disk space limitations. It’s a service that has been very useful. The downside to it is that I have to pay extra for features like Spam filtering or virus protection, these features are also enabled on a per mailbox basis so it get’s expensive very quickly for clients who have a lot of mailboxes. MySQL databases, Visitor Statistics, user control panels, password protected folders are all additional costs to have on a site too, so adding all these costs onto a site really mounts up. On the plus side though is that Fasthosts Tech Support is very good, they offer 24/7 support and they do the job very well. I’m always confident they’ll get any problems sorted very quickly. In addition to the Reseller Account I also have a Dedicated Server which I use to provide live audio and video streaming for a client and also to host some additional MySQL databases.
Too much, not enough…
Due to the high price of all the additional features on Fasthosts and also the inability (at that time anyway) to use Apache .htaccess files for mod_rewrite I had no choice but to get an additional hosting account elsewhere. I’ve used two different VPS accounts since then, the first with Designer Servers and the second with Webfusion.
The Designer Servers VPS was reliable but had an unrealistic and unusable diskspace allocation of 300Mb which for a reseller VPS was just way to small. In this age of GMail accounts approaching 3Gb it wasn’t enough. The cost involved in getting a more expensive account just wasn’t worth it.
I then switched to Webfusion as the price was a bit lower and had a much better disk space allocation of 10Gb. The VPS comes with a 100 domain Plesk Control Panel which is quite easy to use and provides a good interface for clients to use to manage their own email etc. It worked quite well until late last year (2006) when it started to run quite slowly, and despite my best efforts to optimise what’s running on it and moving most of the MySQL databases over to my Fasthosts Dedicated Server it’s still not running very well. It kind of feels like a Windows machine does when you know it’s time to reformat and get a clean install and start fresh. Only this is a linux server hosting several of my clients so there’s no way that’s an option.
What’s so good about the US hosts?
So that kind of brings me to where I am now, frustrated with having to deal with three separate hosting setups to get what I want. In the midst of this frustration I noticed a lot sites using US companies like MediaTemple for their hosting so I started to check out the US companies some more, and I was really surprised by what the features were.
I’ve already mentioned some major benefits in my previous bullet points, besides the cheaper prices and bigger diskspace and bandwidth allocations there is the actual technical setup of the hosting itself. There’s just nothing like it available based in the UK, not really for any price at the moment!
In the second part of this series of
rants posts I’ll take a closer look at the following US hosting setups:
End of part 1