This was originally a very positive review, but it's evolved greatly over time. I added a steady stream of increasingly negative updates due to various problems I've been having, but things seemed to be looking up finally as of 1/28/2001... but that apparently didn't last. See below.
When I first found out there was a site called 5bucksamonth.com offering Web hosting (under your own domain name) at $5/month, I thought that they probably offered lousy service at that price, though it might still be worth putting up with to get a site hosted at such a low price (without the annoying popups, redirects, and frames forced on you by the free hosting providers). However, I heard several good accounts of how their service was actually pretty good, so I kept them in mind for my own hosting.
In mid-2000, my former employer, who had been letting me host several of my personal sites free (pretty nice of them when I quit months earlier!), finally told me I had to get the sites off of there, so I decided to try 5bucksamonth.com. First I moved my main personal site, dantobias.com, and if that worked out well I'd think about putting the other sites there too.
The signup process was fairly smooth. The one drawback is that they don't have a secure server, so you can either enter your credit card info on a nonsecure page (if you're not too afraid of it being stolen; actually, you probably have a better chance of card theft if you read your number out loud in a phone booth or hand your card to a teenage waiter or store clerk) or call or write it in to them (which could slow down your account processing). Once that's done, they e-mail you back in one business day to confirm that your account is set up and give you your username and password.
The "$5/month" actually has to be paid a year in advance, and there's a one-time $25 setup fee, so you really have to pay $85 for a new account. That's still a very good price for a year of hosting, and annual renewals will be only $60. If you register a new domain, that's an extra $15 (much better than the $35/year that former domain monopoly Network Solutions charges); if you have an existing domain, you can transfer its hosting to 5bucksamonth.com at no charge. Thus, a completely new site, with new domain, can be set up for a total of $100 (I can remember when that's what it cost just to register a domain, with no hosting). If you're transferring an existing domain, they'll give you an e-mail template you have to send to Network Solutions (if that's the registrar you have the domain with). (I've since switched the domain registrar of all my domains to 5 Bucks, which lets me use their control panel to make any updates I wish very quickly and easily.)
You get 25 megabytes of space, full access to create CGI scripts, and 25 e-mail boxes. You can set up an unlimited number of alias names to forward either to one of your own mailboxes or to an outside e-mail provider. A Web-based management site is available to access site features such as changing your e-mail addresses.
One minor complaint (since remedied; later new and changed accounts were handled better) was that they didn't tell you how to get into your account before your domain is transferred; their access instructions involve your using your own domain in the FTP program and in accessing the web maintenance section by browser, so those things didn't work until your domain is moved. In the case of existing sites, I'd prefer to get them set up in advance to minimize the dislocation when the domain is moved (otherwise, at first, the domain will point at an "Under Construction" page on the new site). I did figure out how to do it anyway, by using a Dig program to find out the IP address associated with my domain (to do this before it transferred, I had to query using the DNS server at 5bucksamonth.com, which you can find out the address of by looking at the WHOIS record of their own domain). Once I know that, I could follow their access instructions using the IP address instead of my domain, and they work. (You couldn't access your actual website that way, though, since the IP addresses were shared between several sites, so that the actual domain was needed to resolve the particular site. This only works in browsers that support HTTP 1.1, but fortunately there aren't many left that don't. However, as of January 2001, their new server assigns separate IP addresses to each account, so this problem no longer applies.)
The site worked fine for the first few weeks after the move, with fast access most of the time (and when it wasn't, I was more likely to suspect the blame is on my flaky Adelphia cable modem connection rather than the hosting provider). Thus, I recommended the site at the time, and moved another of my sites there successfully. However, my opinion has ebbed and flowed since; see my updates:
Update, 07/16/2000: My site hasn't worked all day, and I can't retrieve my e-mail through them either. This is the first major problem I've had since I started with them, and the lack of ability to reach an actual human being by telephone on a 24/7 basis is very annoying at this point. This could be just a momentary fluke server failure, but if it's not working again very soon, I'll have to seriously down-rate this service. I'll update the review again soon when this is resolved.
Update, 07/17/2000: Well, it's back up now, so it might have just been a one-time temporary failure. If it doesn't happen again, I'll still recommend this service.
Update, 07/18/2000: Their tech support has explained that the problems are due to another site on their server getting excessive traffic and bringing down the whole server. They're in the process of moving it, but in the meantime, sporadic downtimes continue. I certainly hope this is resolved soon, because it's really frustrating.
Update, 07/19/2000: My site and e-mail have been accessible in a reasonably stable way from this afternoon on, so maybe they've finally solved the problem. I'll update this again if there is any further trouble.
Update, 07/20/2000: The response from their tech support says that they're in the process of moving all the accounts to a new server due to a problem with the old one. For a while I thought the problem might be solved now, but then there were further problems with site access today, so I guess they're still working on it.
Update, 07/21/2000: I think they've finally solved the problems (knock on wood). Earlier today my site was a bit slow to access, but now it's as fast as it's ever been. If this keeps up, I'll be able to recommend them as a hosting provider again.
Update, 10/03/2000: While my Web sites have been working fine ever since the problems of a couple of months ago, and continue to work fine now, I'm having problems with my e-mail; none has managed to get through since yesterday. Their tech support tells me they're working on it.
Update, 10/05/2000: My e-mail is back up now; it was just a temporary problem due to a server change at their end.
Update, 10/15/2000: Unfortunately, my e-mail is broken again, apparently in the same manner as a couple of weeks ago. I haven't been able to get my mail since Friday afternoon, and their tech support doesn't seem to respond on the weekend. Very annoying.
Update, 10/17/2000: As of yesterday, my mail works again, and they have apologized for the problems.
Update, 11/16/2000: The mail has stopped working several more times over the last month or so. It seems to be a matter of the mail server getting jammed and needing a human to reset it before it starts sending mail again. They always fix it quickly when I call their tech support (and fortunately my cell-phone plan includes free long distance, so these calls don't cost me anything), but they're only available during California business hours, so I'm out of luck on the weekend or before about noon Eastern time. They also say that they're about to move to a new, better server, which should solve these problems.
Update, 12/03/2000: They just moved my site to a different server. This move was mishandled in a few ways regarding poor communication: they gave me instructions to change my DNS servers to point to a new location, but failed to send me the e-mail they were supposed to send about setting up my account on the new server, so as a result, my web site and email pointed nowhere for a few hours until I got it straightened out. However, once the move was complete, I'm happy with how it turned out; the new server they have me on has a lot more features and options -- I think it's a server they usually use for their higher-priced hosting accounts. They say they moved me there to solve the problems with my e-mail over the last few weeks, and the e-mail does seem to work fine now. I even seem to have a dedicated I.P. address for my site instead of a shared one like before, and there's a DNS management configuration that appears to allow me to set up hostnames and subdomains if I should want to use them, a feature I might eventually make use of. And I've got complete access to my Apache configuration file, something that might be dangerous for non-techies (who can really screw the site up), but for me it's great -- I can set up virtual hosts, redirections, custom log file formats, and lots of other things. Really great for $5/month; now, if only everything worked...
Update, 12/06/2000: Just when I thought the server move had finally solved my problems for good, their DNS seems to be flaking out; now my site is sporadically unavailable as the domain sometimes can't resolve. They say they're working on it...
Update, 12/13/2000: The DNS continues to be intermittently flaky, with my site sometimes working from some places, sometimes failing, with no rhyme or reason. Sometimes access fails to www.dantobias.com but it works to the "naked" domain dantobias.com without the www. It appears that they have misconfigured the nameserver (NS) records in their DNS configuration; a "DIG" command shows a naked dot (.) as the NS record, where the full address of their nameserver is supposed to be. Also, their secondary nameserver, ns2.advancedminds.net, doesn't respond to queries or PINGs at all; it seems to be completely dead. I've spent literally hours on the phone with them by now, and have concluded that they're clueless on the subject of DNS server configuration. I'm about ready to find a new hosting provider now, even though I'm paid through the middle of next year with this one.
Update, 12/23/2000: I'm still trying to get the problems resolved. I haven't personally had any problem getting to my website or retrieving my e-mail lately, but I still get occasional reports from others that the site is inaccessible to them, and I suspect the goofy DNS to be the cause. Also, I find that I can't even send e-mail to 5 Bucks' own tech support address (at their parent company, Advanced Minds) from my own domain; it bounces with an error message saying that Advanced Minds' server can't authenticate the domain the mail was sent from (probably a spam-filtering technique). So the goofed-up DNS seems to even prevent one of their own servers from correctly connecting to another. I had to send them mail from my work account; they say they're referring it to their tech people and will look into it. (I provided them detailed reports on failed DIG, PING, and e-mail attempts.) Aside from these DNS problems, I like the new server they've moved me to; it has lots of powerful features, way beyond what one usually has access to on a cheap hosting account. If they can fix these problems, I'll revise this review to highly recommend them again. If they can't, though, I'll really have to find a new provider, though I've got months left on my pre-paid term with this one.
Update, 01/01/2001: The FTP access was goofed up for the last couple of days, and I couldn't upload or download anything. It seems to be fixed now.
Update, 01/27/2001: I had the same FTP problem repeat several times, but things have been pretty stable for the last week or two, so maybe they've fixed it for good. The DNS seems to work better now; some stuff still shows up goofy in the "DIG" reports, but I don't have recent complaints of people being unable to get to my site, so maybe they've fixed things to a practical level anyway. It still seems like I can't get email to forward to my site from a free hosting provider I use for some other sites, so there may still be a glitch somewhere (but I don't know whose fault it is). Meanwhile, they just moved the other site I host with them, tiffany.org, to the new server, apparently thinking they'd got all the bugs out of it after using sites like my other one as "guinea pigs". Since this is my second site to make the switch, I understand how to do it now, and got the site and email aliases fully set up on the new server before changing the DNS entries away from the old one; hence, there won't be the disruption of service my other site had when the change was made and inadequate communication resulted in transitions being botched. I've got yet another site I'm about to be setting up an account for, and still haven't decided whether to chance using this service for it or find a different host.
Update, 01/28/2001: Well, I think they may finally have their act together! For the first time since the server move, I can do a "Dig" query on my domain and have it come up with no notations of "malformed records". Nothing else has been screwing up that I know of. Thus, I can qualifiedly reinstate this host as a "recommended" entry, though only for such things as personal and fan sites, not any mission-critical business sites -- I wouldn't trust them enough for those. I've still got a few quibbles: their tech-support emails now say to go for help to support.5bucksamonth.com, but that site didn't exist when I checked last; their main website hasn't been updated in months (and can hence be regarded as a "cobweb site"); and last I checked my own web logs, they seem to be in the wrong time zone, as they're hours off from any reasonable rendition of the current time (either in California where they are, on the East Coast where I am, or by Greenwich Time). But these are minor gripes compared to the problems I went through in the past. I haven't found any other hosts that make the degree of techie-friendly services they do available at such a low price, so I think I'll stick with them, and may even set up the new site I'm starting there too.
Update, 01/29/2001: Well, I may have spoken too soon; the FTP access failed again. When I called their tech support, they said that I needed to e-mail them, and they'd fix it right away, but they haven't, and they're closed for the night now. I'm really going to read them the riot act when they open tomorrow...
Update, 02/03/2001: I've decided to go to a different provider, DreamHost, for a new site I'm setting up, a fan site about the Mexican singer Tatiana at www.chicadehoy.org. If this works out, I'll move the rest of my sites there. I'll write a review of that provider once I have enough experience there to write of. I've given up on this one; there have been a few more service glitches just in the few days since my last update, and some of my emails to their tech support address have even bounced -- probably a result of their glitchy DNS. I'll be much better off at the other provider, even though their base account price is higher (though adding additional domains is actually cheaper per domain than the $5/month of this one).
Update, 02/10/2001: I've moved the rest of my sites away from "5 Bucks" onto Dreamhost, after a week of good service for the site I set up there, and continued lousy service for the sites left behind -- the 5 Bucks server seems to have crashed totally a couple of times, while their email system was flaky enough to lose, bounce, or delay some of my mail (I got some messages as long as two days after they were sent). It's not worth this hassle just to get the rest of my money's worth and keep my accounts there for the four and a half months left on my prepaid, nonrefundable account. As the final indignity, after I had switched the domains over, but they hadn't yet fully propagated all over the net (and I haven't yet formally cancelled my 5 Bucks account), I logged into their account maintenance section one last time, and when I looked in the DNS section, it showed entries for conniemariejones.net. This is apparently some other customer's domain, and they've somehow got that record crossed with mine. The subdomain records I set up in dantobias.com are apparently gone without a trace. I bet Connie's account is equally screwed; I couldn't get that website to come up when I tried it. She's probably peeved at "5 Bucks" too. Stay away from this host, unless they undergo a major infusion of cluefulness.
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Monthly fees (US$): 5
Platform used: Linux
Hosted on Secure Server: No
Database used: MySQL
Main focus of Web site: Publishing/Content