_(NOTE: A lot of the information here has been updated for 2013 in this more recent post)_
Using Google to take mail out of the shared web host picture
When I decided to migrate from a previous shared host (previous post), I was most upset about the hassle of moving my mail. That is always the least fun part of the process, involving:
- downloading all my remote IMAP mail to local folders
- creating matching accounts on the new host
- changing the nameservers and spending a couple of days in messy flux, with some mail being delivered to the new host and other mail routed my old host
- re-uploading local mail back to the IMAP folders
Having heard positive feedback from some friends, I decided to switch my mail hosting to Google so I would never have to deal with this hassle again. Doing so involves setting up a Google Apps account for your domain name, and then updating your domain’s DNS settings the MX records point to Google.
Not having ever tampered with MX records before, I wasn’t completely sure what I was doing. I had heard that if your domain is hosted through GoDaddy.com, then they have a control panel which lets you adjust MX settings no matter who your web host might be.
That sounded good, because I had recently switched to GoDaddy as a domain registrar. I’ve heard of people having problems with them, but unlike my horrible previous registrar, at least with GoDaddy there’s an actual phone number you can call when there’s a problem.
However, the information about GoDaddy handling MX settings at the registrar-level was flat-out wrong. You still need a web hosting account with a provider offering DNS. Still, I was already using GoDaddy for domain registration, and at that time had no plans for anything beyond a static “resume” website. So I went ahead with GoDaddy’s cheapest shared hosting plan. Migrating my mail hosting to Google was a breeze (complete details).
The GoDaddy girls never really get naked (and other bait-and-switch tactics)
Unsurprisingly though, you can’t expect TOO much from a company with name (and marketing sensibilities) of a white-trash sexual reference. Even though I was only planning for a static website at first, I anticipated eventually wanting to host some light development. So part of the reason for choosing GoDaddy was the number of available languages and platforms advertised on their shared hosting sales page:
There was even a link at the bottom of the sales page, leading you to a different page if you wanted to include Java and some additional platforms as well. I chose a shared hosting plan from this page:
However, GoDaddy’s shared hosting is as big a tease as their “unrated” commercials. I didn’t realize this until much later, but if I had clicked through a pop-up window and read some fine print, then I would have seen the asterisks and comments at the bottom of this screenshot:
In short… even though the sales page misleads you into thinking that shared hosting includes all of these tools, the reality is that the “economy” plan comes with PHP. Period. Choosing Linux with Apache, rather than Windows with IIS, apparently means you don’t even get PHP 5.x! (4.x reached end-of-life back in 2008)
Reading about other people’s experiences suggests that language support isn’t too hot under a “deluxe” plan, either. Apparently the Python version is ancient, and while you do have shell access, you don’t have GCC for compiling a more recent Python interpreter. Java support is locked down such that you can’t do anything involving reflection. That prevents you from using most any contemporary framework such as Spring, and would block the use of Scala altogether.
Basically, a GoDaddy economy account only seems suitable for a static HTML website, a pre-packaged system like WordPress or Joomla, or maybe some very light PHP. Add to this the general clumsiness of basic admin tasks (e.g. changing your password takes an hour, I have no clue why). The result is that I’m glad I didn’t pay much more than $50 when signing up for a year’s hosting, because I’ll be moving on pretty soon.
NEXT: Web host pricing — buy one, get one at double price…