Monday, 19 January 2009

1&1 - The source of many frustrations

For those not in the know (lucky you), 1&1 is a web host based in the UK. The organisation I work for relies exclusively on them since “they have everything [they] need and is extremely easy to use”. Of course, this is the point of view of people who have absolutely no idea what makes a web host provider good and what does not.
Now, I am not saying that 1&1 is a really poor host, but they have several shortcomings, pretty much like all the other hosts, and horrible customer support. The shortcomings, I can deal with; however, to describe the customer support as “horrible” is actually an understatement.
Picture this: I want to use .htaccess on our websites. I have many reasons for wanting to make full use of the capabilities offered by .htaccess, but my primary reason was actually related to 1&1 itself. It had indeed come to my attention that 1&1 was using domain parking on our websites. Considering we were paying for the service and had never once agreed to let them advertise within our websites, this prompted me to develop custom error pages to get rid of this shameless ripoff and make search engines happy.
After developing the necessary pages and the .htacess file, I upload them to 1&1 only to find out that nothing is working and that the new files have actually made the whole website “invalid”. This was surprising, as I had fully tested the website on XAMPP and everything was fine. I tried several alternatives, but everything failed on 1&1 while nevertheless working on XAMPP. Finally, I was left with no choice but to do the dreaded “1&1 Phone Call”.
Armed with courage and a stress ball (courtesy of E.ON), I phoned the 1&1 Customer Support to have the issue resolved. I will not go over the fact that they put me on hold for 10 minutes each time, nor will I be annoyed at being told that my support guy’s name is Damian when I can clearly hear his thick Indian accent (Protip: If you are going to lie, you’d better practice make it convincing!). I will instead describe how utterly useless 1&1 can be.
After a first conversation with “Damian”, I was informed that the 1&1 hosts were using an old PHP version (4.2) and that I would need to parse my pages in PHP5 should I want to use .htaccess. Now, why would they be using such an old version? Shouldn’t they change their servers so that pages would always be in the latest PHP version? Usually, that would be the best approach, and it would be up to the user to choose if they wanted to use an older version. The other thing is that “Damian” had to put me on hold for no less than 10 minutes to check with his supervisor about the issues. Great work, guys!
However, I decided to accept the explanation and proceeded to start parsing the pages in PHP5. While this allowed me to use .htaccess, it then turned out that most modules were disabled by default. Consequently, I had to activate them each time I wanted to make use of a certain module’s functions. Granted, in this case, I could blame myself too for never bothering to run phpinfo() on the server, but I am of the belief that all paid hosts should ensure that customers are using the latest versions of the technologies they are paying for. I fear the day when I will need to call them next.
P.S. Some of you may be wondering why I did not make a link to 1&1 in this post when everybody knows it is now so easy to make links using blogs’ WYSIWYG editors. I don’t believe in making links to poor service providers, unless the service is so bad it’s funny, which in this case it unfortunately (or fortunately) is not.

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