Web Hosts Are Not Providing “Free Scripts”. They Are Providing Scripts Installer. Introducing Fantastico and InstallCentral.

Most webmasters do not know what they are looking for when searching for a web hosting plan. To guide them, they use the "common sense" called "the more is the better" when comparing different plans.

So, they always jump at the word "UNLIMITED" and the word "FREE". They believe the more unlimited a plan is and the more free items that have, the better it will be.

But unfortunately this is not really the case. One of the good example is unlimited hosting which has been discussed in my post unlimited hosting is limited.

Today we are going to look at another misunderstanding known as "Free Scripts Included".

iPage Free Scripts 

Seen above is part of the feature list of iPage. They didn't call it "free scripts included" but "power plugins". You will come across many different names from different web hosts and you will later understand what do they really mean.

If you didn't sign up for iPage. You can still get WordPress for free by going to wordpress.org. All you need to do is click on the "Download Wordpress" button and you can get WordPress for FREE! I repeat - FREE!

Download WordPress

So if it is already free before you purchase a hosting account, what are you really getting actually? Isn't it the same as a hotel room advertising free "air" or free "oxygen"?

All other scripts can be downloaded as well from their respective websites for free. Here is just a short list.

This blog post is now including "free scripts"! Can you pay me $4.50 for it? Ok, ok, how about $0.50? A beer? ... no, you simply won't pay me for giving you "free air".

The Real Value is Not the Free Scripts But the Scripts Installer

All these scripts are free and everyone who has an internet connection can download and use them. There are ten of thousands of such scripts available. 

The problem is if you download them yourself, you will have to install them yourself. We call it manual installation.

When doing manual installation, the "simple" steps will at least involve the following:-

  1. Download the free script from their official website.
  2. Create a new database in your hosting account for your new script.
  3. Create a new database user and assign it to your database.
  4. Unzip you free script. Locate the "setting" file and enter your database name, database username and password.
  5. Upload all your files to your hosting account.
  6. Run through the online installation program.

It is really not that difficult if you have basic technical knowledge on this but unfortunately, most users don't poses such minimum technical knowledge. All they want is an instant website, like their instant noodles.

So web hosts develop something similar to instant noodles, the auto script installer. Now instead of downloading the script yourself and create the database manually, you can just click a few buttons in the control panel and it will automate everything for you. So you get "instant script".

This is the real value you are getting for what you pay, not the free scripts itself. What they are giving is the script installer, not the free scripts.

From now onwards when you see free scripts included in a hosting plan, it is referring to the auto installer for this script.

The 2 Popular Scripts Installers

The 2 most popular scripts installers are Fantastico and InstallCentral. Fantastico is used by web hosts using the CPanel control panel (such as HostGator) why InstallCentral is used by web hosts using the vDeck control panel (such as iPage and FatCow).

The number of scripts available in the installer is standard among all other web hosts. That means you really don't need to look at the script list. If they are using Fantastico, host A will have the same list as host B. So HostGator will have the same scripts as LunarPages and iPage will have the same scripts as FatCow because they are using the same installer.

So what matter to you is what control panel and scripts installer they are using and you will know the rest.

WordPress Joomla Drupal

Scripts in Fantastico de luxe (CPanel)
  • Blogs - b2evolution, Nucleus, WordPress
  • Classifieds - Noahs Classifieds
  • Content Management - Drupal, GeekLog, Drupal, Joomla, Joomla 1.5, Mambo, PHP-Nuke, phpWCMS, phpWebSite, Siteframe, TYPO3, Xoops, Zikula
  • Customer Relationship - Crafty Syntax Live Help, Help Center Live, osTicket, PerlDesk, PHP Support Tickets, Support Logic Helpdesk, Support Services Manager
  • Discussion Boards - phpBB, SMF
  • E-Commerce - CubeCart, OS Commerce, Zen Cart
  • F.A.Q. - FAQMasterFlex
  • Hosting Billing - AccountLab Plus, phpCOIN
  • Image Galleries - 4Images Gallery, Coppermine Photo Gallery, Gallery
  • Mailing Lists - PHPlist
  • Polls and Surveys - Advanced Poll, LimeSurvey, phpESP
  • Project Management - dotProject, PHProjekt, Site Builders, Soholaunch Pro Edition, Templates Express
  • Wiki - TikiWiki CMS/Groupware, PhpWiki
  • Other Scripts - Dew-NewPHPLinks, Moodle, Open-Realty, OpenX, PHPauction, phpFormGenerator, WebCalendar
Scripts in InstallCentral (vDeck)
  • Content Management System (CMS): Joomla, Drupal, Mambo, e107
  • Blogs: WordPress, PixelPost, b2evolution
  • Picture Galleries: Coppermine, Gallery2, ZenPhoto
  • Forum: GBook, phpBB, SMF
  • Shopping Cart: osCommerce, AgoraCart, ZenCart
  • Others: Gregarius, MediaWiki, SugarCRM, X7Chat, WebCalendar, Moodle, OpenRealty...

You will notice that Fantastico is providing more scripts than InstallCentral. But again, don't be a slave to "the more is the better" mindset because you don't need to use most as many are unpopular scripts.

Weaknesses of Scripts Installers

Don't be too happy with scripts installers as they have a lot of weaknesses too. All scripts will release new versions from time to time, either a small update or a big upgrade. It will take a long delay before the version you see in the script installer matches the newest version because it takes time for the programmers to work and test the installation script. Having less scripts in the installer becomes an advantage here because the programmers can focus only on the most popular scripts.

Not only scripts installers have to do new installation, they will also need to perform upgrade actions, i.e. upgrading existing installations to the newer versions. Upgrading a script is more complicated than a new installation, it is like trying to fix a car when the engine is still running. Programmers have to spend more effort to make sure the upgrades work.

Unfortunately, sometimes it simply doesn't work out as expected and your script may not be upgraded properly, non geeks calling it "being screwed". If you have a backup, you can restore to the old version (you can call it "unscrewing"). If you don't have a backup, I am sure you will start cursing everyone from the programmer's mum to the China president.

Cursing

Backup! Always backup before you do an upgrade.

Most experience webmasters will not do auto installation because they want full control. They can upgrade their script immediately without waiting for the installer to be updated. They can do a lot more if the installation fail because it is their own doing and everything will still be under their control.

Learning how to install you own scripts is worth your time and effort.

Another Advantage of Scripts Installers

While it is true that experienced webmasters seldom use the script installer, it will come a time that the scripts installer will be handy - when you need to test new scripts. Instead of wasting lots of time configuring and installing the script manually, you can just install it with a few clicks, play with it and if you don't like, uninstall it with another few clicks. You can have "free trial" easily.

Free Trial

Final Notes

We have so far discussed the 2 most popular scripts installers. There are many other installers out there depending on the web hosts. For example, BlueHost and HostMonster installer is known as SimpleScripts. Some web hosts don't even have a script installer.

We end our discussion with the list of recommended web hosts and their installers.

Fantastico InstallCentral
HostGator iPage
JustHost FatCow
LunarPages PowWeb