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Steve Wood's
View from the Classroom

In Search of a Web Host
May 9, 2000



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When I first started doing the View for the Classroom series, I found myself after just two columns coming up empty for a weekly column. I had tons of stuff in various stages of development, but nothing was ready to go! At that time I put up a little ditty called This Week's Non-Column...and got away with it! Could I do it twice? Nah!

Having finally completed my annual month of Windows computing, I realized again this week that I was working on fumes. The Annual Case Reviews plus some really tough new cases had consumed nearly all of my time and energy. I hadn't touched any of the old Mac "boxes" upstairs in weeks, and really hadn't been doing much with the computers in my classroom!

Then on Thursday I saw the envelope from Wits and Bits and something about it seemed different. I quickly tore it open to find my quarterly invoice for web hosting services with a pink note attached.

It read:

This is the last web hosting bill you will receive from HCW/Wits and Bits.
Dear Wits and Bits/HCW customers,
Hewitt Code Works will terminate web hosting services this July.

The note went on with a line or two of mundane renewal stuff. There was no explanation or thanks for the business. A quick email to Ken Hewitt brought no response. Ken always promptly answers his messages and Wits and Bits has been a superb web host! Even though proximity makes little difference in choosing a web host, I'd always liked the idea of Ken & Company being just up the road a bit in Indianapolis. I'll miss them.

Fortunately, there was plenty of lead time to make the change. I suddenly had more column material than I ever wanted for this or any week. For those of you who use a web host, it's real good idea to register your domain name. I hadn't, so now many of my column links up to this week will die along with the Wits and Bits web hosting service at the end of July! Had I registered my domain at wits and bits, I could simply transfer the domain to another server with the general public none the wiser.

I started my search the same place I'd found Wits and Bits, MacWebserver. Apparently, I'd really gotten lucky the last time, as I couldn't find a Mac-friendly web host this time that fit my price range. It really wasn't critical to me to have my site hosted on a Mac, as I'd been using Unix hosts for some time without any real difficulty. Undaunted, I hopped on over to Alan Chapman's budgetweb.com and found myself overwhelmed with possibilities. I started sorting sites, checking throughput, reading customer comments, and the like. Several promising hosts flunked out when I found bad links on their home site pages. Eventually, I found a virtual host that offered a bargain price for the amount of web space and throughput I'd need. Within a few hours of sending in a Sunday afternoon web based order for a 300MB site, I had an email back from Syonic Communications. Before bedtime, I'd received an email with my setup data, username, and password. By the next morning MathDittos2.com became active.

Starting out with a new web host is a bit like when you've first rented a new apartment or bought a house. You walk into freshly painted empty rooms, flip a few light switches on and off, do a 360 look-around at an empty room, and walk out. It looks good, but you hope everything will work and that you can get it filled up as soon as possible. It was nice, at least, to see friendly neighbors next door.

Unfortunately, not all of the neighbors were so nice. I began to receive emails from friends and customers saying they weren't able to log into the site. I tried from school, and sure enough, I couldn't either. I zapped out an email to our school's "Evil NT techie," and he appeared grinning at my doorway in just minutes. He said, "It appears you've chosen a web host for your educational sharewares on a server that also hosts some nasty sites!"

So...I quickly emailed Ethan in Syonic's tech support explaining the situation. He had me back up and running on a "virgin" site in just a few days. Whew!

Although it's just a beginning, the before and after below gives an idea of what just a little color can do. I've also put off learning how to use include tags and cascading style sheets. Maybe now is the time!

When I first realized that I was going to have to move to a new web host, I was about as happy as the Windows folks last week who opened the attachment of the I Love You virus in Outlook. There still will be a lot of site design, but then, isn't that part of the fun of having your own site? 

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©2000 Steven L. Wood

revised 5/20/2000