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Dreamhost Review: Why We Recommend Dreamhost
Many people wonder why we have chosen to host with Dreamhost for many years even though this company does not always offer the most web space, the most bandwidth, or the lowest price of the web hosts we review. There are many considerations that go into selecting an affordable hosting company. Price, bandwidth, and web space are not the only things one must consider. One must also consider the fit with the special needs of the web site (or sites) one will be creating.
Content Restrictions or Why Terms of Service Really Do Matter
GridSpace has designed and maintained a number of sites for clients and our own use over the years. Far more often than one would expect, we've run afoul of weird interpretations of content restrictions in the terms of service legalese of various web hosting companies. Here are a few examples of weird problems we have seen:
- We were working with an author who had her web site cancelled by her hosting company because they claimed the gif of the cover of one of her romance novels violated their no-nudity rule. The cover was on display in bookstores across the country without problems (as the woman on the cover wasn't even really nude, she was wearing a bodysuit), but her hosting company canceled her contract for her "violation" of their terms of service and her lawyer had to threaten a lawsuit to get them to refund her large advance payment.
- Another web host made a client pull a book review because they decided the title of the book was "obscene." The book was entitled You Got Screwed. As you can see if you click on the link (which will take you to the book's page on Amazon), the book is about Wall Street and is subtitled "Why Wall Street Tanked and How You Can Prosper." That did not matter to the hosting company, the word "screwed" was "obscene" in their judgement and the review had to be removed from the web site.
- Another client was about to sign up with a web host whose terms of service banned "satanic sites" because her neighbor was recommending it. Before she signed up, however, her neighbor was booted by the web host because his son posted about Harry Potter books and films to the family's blog and the folks running the hosting company considered Harry Potter satanic. My client naturally decided to host elsewhere.
As you can see from these examples, a web host's Terms of Service really do matter. Take a look at the terms of service of some web hosts and see how restrictive they can be. Even prohibitions that seem reasonable at first can cause trouble. A ban on nudity might mean those pictures you took of ancient statues on your trip to Greece can't be posted to your web site, if your web host is too literal-minded. Bans on "satanism" often means a ban on any religious or quasi-religious information the people at the hosting company don't like -- including Catholism in one case I heard about.
Some web hosts even require that material be legal in all countries on the planet. Think about that requirement a minute. If they elected to enforce it, this clause would mean no web sites for Christian churches on that host as they are illegal in Saudi Arabia, no sites critical of the Chinese government as that is not allowed in China, no sites directly comparing products as that type of advertising is banned in some countries, etc. Chances are they will not normally enforce it, but if they need a reason to cancel your contract without refund, this requirement gives them one as just about every site on the Internet violates some obscure law in some country somewhere.
Dreamhost's Terms of Service: Rational Content Restrictions
While web hosts do need to cover themselves legally by disallowing truly illegal content like child porn or warez sites, the restrictive allowable content clauses in the terms of service of many web hosts are ridiculous, to put it mildly. Dreamhost has a very laid back view on content. If it is legal in California, customers can host it on their servers. I know of someone who hosted a site on sexual fetishes on Dreamhost. Even though this site was text-only (no pornographic pictures appear on the site, just some pictures of book covers and old Victorian-era postcards), this site would run afoul of the terms of service of many web hosting companies. Think about it -- if Dreamhost will host that site, chances are it will have no content-related problem with yours. Dreamhost's rational content restrictions alone are enough to make Dreamhost a primary candidate for anyone who supports free speech strongly -- or for anyone just wants to host a web site without pointless content acceptability worries.
While Dreamhost does not always offer the most features for the least money, they do offer quite a bit for a low price. As of January 2009, their basic $10.95 plan (it's only $9.95 a month if you pay for a year in advance and the discounts continue to increase if you aree willing to pay for additional years in advance) allows hosting of unlimited domains and subdomains and offers unlimted web space (plus 50 gigs to store your own files) and unlimited bandwidth, unlimited email accounts, umlimited ftp/shell accounts, unlimited email addresses and mysql databases, and all the features one could want on a unix hosting account (php4, php5, zend optimizer, cgi including python and perl, fastcgi, ruby on rails, crontab, ssi, webdav access to your disk space, log files, pop3/imap/webmail access to email, spam filtering, announcement lists, discussion lists -- hosted by mailman instead of outdated majordomo, cvs and svn repositories, and much more). Dreamhost has a very nice custom web control panel, so even though you have shell access to your account, you will probably never need to use it. Dreamhost's control panel provides "one-click" installation of Wordpress (weblog software), phpbb (forum software), advanced poll, Zen Cart (online shop), MediaWiki (the software used by Wikipedia), Joomla (CMS), Gallery 2 (image gallery), Moodle (online learning software), WebCalendar, PhpGedView, dotProject and Pligg. Dreamhost does not limit your web site to these, of course -- you can install just about other php, perl, python, or ruby software your web site needs manually. Dreamhost is a very good deal money-wise and feature-wise, although not always the lowest cost and most feature-packed deal available.
Another plus for Dreamhost is great tech support. When we've used their support ticket system with problems or questions, we've always received a helpful reply tailored to our level of knowledge on the subject in question. They ask about your experience on the support ticket form and the choices range from "Please explain everything to me very carefully" to "Not to be rude, but I probably know more about this than you do." Problems with their service have been few and far between (unlike with some of the other hosts we've had). When they occur, however, problems have always been corrected as quickly as possible and explanations provided on their announcement system.
Dreamhost's basic plan only has email/ticket support. GridSpace used this level of account for our sites for over a year and never missed telephone support. However, you can purchase an addon that provides telephone call back support (they call you back at a time you request). We had that for a while but dropped it as we never had to use it. Their normal support ticket system is simply that good. Dreamhost staff can also be found in their support forums and they produce a wonderful -- and funny -- monthly newsletter.
Dreamhost also regularly adds new features and other upgrades to accounts -- with no increase in price. Almost every monthly newsletter announces some new feature. Most of them are minor, of course. Some, however, are major -- like the additions of June and July in 2005 (php5, fastcgi, ruby on rails, mysql 4.1, and zend optimizer) or the web space and bandwidth increases announced in late 2006, in late 2007 and in early 2009.
More to Selecting a Web Host than Price
The point of this article isn't necessarily to convince you to choose Dreamhost as your web host (although, your author suspects 95% or more of our readers would be happy with Dreamhost), but to show you that there is more to selecting a web hosting company than selecting the company offers you the most bandwidth and disk space for the lowest price on the day you are buying. The Cheap Web Hosting Report can help you narrow your search to what we think are some of best low cost choices around, but you still need to look at those choices carefully in the light of your plans and needs so you can select a web hosting company that best fits your needs.
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Dreamhost Questions & Answers
Does Dreamhost have a guarantee?
As of this writing, Dreamhost is offering a 97 day money back guarantee (one of the longest I've heard of). From Dreamhost's web site: "If you decide - within the first 97 days of your time with us - that DreamHost isn't for you, we will gladly close your account and refund any payments you've made to us within those first 97 days." There is, however, an asterisk on this line leading to a footnote which reads "Excludes domain registration fees and dedicated server payments. Credit card payments only."
Does Dreamhost oversell?
Almost all inexpensive web hosts oversell in that if every customer used all their bandwidth and disk space allotment they would not have enough. That's how they are able to provide the prices they do as they know most customers will only use a fraction of the total. What really matters isn't if they oversell, but how they handle those relatively rare customers who use everything offered. Most hosting companies seem to find some reason to kick them off. Dreamhost simply adds more servers and rebalances their load.
An excellent example of this is what happened in late 2004 when Dreamhost decided that each domain's busiest day of the billing month would not count toward their bandwidth usage. A few of their customers saw a way to take advantage of this. These customers set up 31 separate subdomains, each of which served huge files on one day of the month -- for free. While Dreamhost revised their policy after a couple of months (upping overall bandwidth and eliminating the free day), they did not punish the customers who took advantage this loophole by canceling their accounts.
Does Dreamhost offer Windows Hosting?
No, all of Dreamhost's shared hosting services run Debian Linux. Unless you need to run .Net software as part of your web site, this really will not matter to you. You do not need to be running the same system on your home or office computer as your web hosting company runs on your web server. Nor do you need to know Linux to use Dreamhost as you can control your Dreamhost account from their user-friendly web control panel. You don't need to touch the unix command line (although Dreamhost provides access to it for the unix geeks).
Isn't Dreamhost customer support slow?
Dreamhost prioritizes support tickets. Support replies for sites that are down or having server problems is very fast, 15 to 60 minutes in my experience. Questions about how to do something are generally answered within 24 hours. This is been fast enough for me -- especially since the answers to "how to do something" questions are tailored to the amount of experience the questioner has. They can be fairly detailed when needed and those take time to write. Overall, Dreamhost has the best customer support of any cheap web host we've used. If you are looking for near instant response times, you really need to be looking at higher end hosting options. Be aware, however, that a high price does not always mean fast or good customer support.
I'd like to give Dreamhost a try, can you get me a discount?
I can do better, for taking the time to read this page, I can give you your choice of a discount or a bonus feature. If you enter on of the special promo codes below (the bolded characters starting with CWHR) on Dreamhost's signup form, you will get your choice of a discount, 10% extra disk space, 10% extra bandwidth, or a second free domain registration. (To cover myself, I have to note these offers are subject to change or cancellation without notice.)
- CWHRDISCOUNT - Discounted Signup Price: save yourself some cash!
- CWHRDOMAIN - SECOND free domain registration: get a second free domain name!
Why does CWHR no longer host with Dreamhost?
In October 2009, one of our largest interactive web sites became so active that it needed its own server. We moved that site to a large Linode Virtual Private Server. When our Linode VPS proved more than enough to handle this site, we moved all our web sites, including Cheap Web Hosting Report, to our new Linode VPS. Our annual costs are over six times what they were at Dreamhost, but we have full root access and only share our dual-quad core server with 14 other accounts (which is what our largest site, an active message board, needed). Most web sites do not need this type of power and most site-owners do not need the headaches of setting up, running, and maintaining their own server. For those who do, Linode is great -- more powerful than many low-priced dedicated servers. For everyone else, we still strongly recommend Dreamhost's shared hosting.