FREE Web Hosting Control Panel Review

This guide was intended to help beginner/non-experts find a good control panel for managing their websites and web servers. About myself…I’m extremely tech-savvy and know my way around many web technologies. Of the few things that I don’t do, programming and operating from the command line is one of them.

When it comes to finding the best web hosting control panel, I care about one thing only: CAN YOU DO IT WITHOUT BOTHERING YOUR SERVER GUY?

Most control panels are not good enough. Either you’ll have to bother your server guy, or you’ll have to learn. Learning is great if all you want to do is maintain web servers. But it’s horrible if you’ve got other things to do like RUN A PROFITABLE BUSINESS. If you’re running a business like me, it’s really hard to go away from anything but cPanel. But let’s try anyway…

 

cPanel is the best web hosting control panel!

Let’s get this out of the way first. The absolute best control panel will and probably forever be cPanel. It’s been around for over a decade. Many people use it, it’s offered everywhere, very easy to use and easy to understand, has just enough controls to be powerful, and doesn’t let you break things too easily. It also has tons of helpful guides you can find online…it’s no wonder it’s the standard.

With cPanel alone, you can do all this by yourself:

  • setup new domains
  • FTP accounts
  • email accounts
  • cron jobs
  • make database changes
  • edit spam options
  • set up SSL
  • change PHP version
  • set up caching
  • set up other cPanel users so they can manage their OWN websites
  • and many more things.

There are however 3 drawbacks with cPanel: not free, relatively resource heavy, and doesn’t work out of the box with NGINX server. (Oh, and a 4th, many admins say it’s not secure. But I disagree since the point of vulnerability is almost always the website more so than the webhost panel…at least in my experience.)

But I honestly don’t care about these drawbacks because cPanel does the number one job which is allowing me to make tons of changes without having to bother my server guy! You will come to appreciate this more and more as you work on tons of websites and not only do you not want to bother your server admin, you also don’t want your clients to bother you! Cpanel is as easy-to-use as an iPhone app and truly gets it right!

 

So why go with a FREE web hosting control panel?

 

REASON #1 – Cost 

Many people want to run a cheap server. Maybe for non-critical tasks (staging, back-up, etc), or for personal use (non-commercial). Now if you’re trying to save money on a COMMERCIAL SITE, that makes no sense to me since that tells me your site isn’t profitable anyway. There are also those who just love the idea of open-source everything and love playing with new/experimental technologies. I think it’s fine if you’re not on a critical production server.

Do keep in mind that while open-source software may have the advantage of being developed by more community experts and more hands, it may lack the maturity and consistent support of commercial software. Communities may change as other software becomes more popular and developers fork their efforts away leaving you with unsupported/unsecured software. Migrating to different software every few years is an absolute hassle and costs more in the long run!

 

REASON #2 – Resource heavy

It is true that cPanel uses more resources than other control panels. But I think it’s a worthy trade-off considering all the things it can do easily. The easiest solution for being resource heavy is to get a more powerful server. If you’re on your own VPS, you could negate the performance loss by upgrading it for a few dollars more. If you’re a webhost with many clients, I guess you could implement better caching to offset the resource loss of cPanel. I suppose an expert tweaker could make a $5 VPS take thousands more traffic hits without cPanel but that isn’t a real-world scenario IMO. Anybody getting that much traffic would have upgraded to a better server anyway.

Either way, cPanel is very well-coded IMO, very stable, and worth the higher use of resources. YES, it’s not as efficient as others but again, it allows beginners to get more done. How much is your time worth?

Also…how much traffic do you get anyway? If your server resources aren’t maxed out with traffic spikes regularly, you shouldn’t worry so much about resource-use any way.

 

REASON #3 – NGINX

This is the only legitimate reason I see for not using cPanel. Why would someone want NGINX? Because it’s currently the fastest service and more resource-efficient. This has to do with the fact that it doesn’t run a billion services that aren’t used in Apache web server. It’s also written to very efficient in delivering most types of web pages.

If there’s anything NGINX doesn’t do well, it’s that it doesn’t have .htaccess like Apache does. In theory, not having htaccess actually allows for it to be an even faster and logically-programmed server. But in practicality, not having htaccess makes it harder the average user to config rewrites and other other server settings because most tutorials are written with htaccess settings in mind instead of NGINX server settings.

 

FREE Control Panels

Webmin/Virtualmin

I really REALLLLY wanted to like this control panel. The problem is that it’s still hard to use (yes, even with the updated super-beautiful Authentic theme). There’s way too many settings and while the layout is intuitive for a server admin, it’s not for the regular users. You feel like you have to click through so many options to get to the few things that you want to change.

Webmin/Virtualmin is really only practical for developing admins who want to learn how to expertly configure servers and even graduate to the command line one day. For someone like me, Webmin/Virtualmin felt like an airplane cockpit when all I wanted was 5 switches.

 

VestaCP

I really wanted to like this one, too. I got it because I wanted to try out NGINX and absolutely needed a control panel. It’s fast and simple and makes a lot of sense. Very easy to set up users, too (which is perfect for a webhosting business).

My only gripe about VestaCP is that it doesn’t work smoothly. Certain things don’t work, or don’t set up properly. Keep in mind, most of the setup and configuring was done by my server admin. All I had to do was “use it”, or make changes as needed. Randomly things would fail and you wouldn’t know why. Emails wouldn’t send. Rewrites wouldn’t work. All kinds of little issues. And every time I asked him, he had to fix it from the command line. For all resources that this control panel probably saved me, it added so much regular maintenance. Having to pay my server guy for every little request made me look at this as a PAID CONTROL PANEL, not free!

VestaCP is still really young at this time, maybe only 3 years old so perhaps needs more time to mature before it’s truly production ready but I truly appreciate them trying to make a super easy-to-use panel that doesn’t have a million features.

 

ISPConfig & Centos Web Panel (CWP)

I hear both of these are really good and I’d love to take a try one day and update my review.

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