There's a plethora of web hosting services willing to host personal web pages that you create. You can post your genealogy pages on the web as well as other pages about most anything else that you wish to share with others, be it your bowling league's scores, your son's Cub Scout Den home page, or pictures of your grandchildren or family gatherings. Prices range from free to about $10.00 a month for personal Web sites.
However, you might not want to use a commercial hosting service. Many people are surprised to learn that they can create their own web server on any Windows 95 or later computer as well as on Macintosh OS X or on Linux. Your present computer can serve as a web server, even while you simultaneously use the word processor, read and write e-mail, surf the Web, or use other programs.
In fact, you will find it easy to install a Web server on your system.
To see one such installation, look at http://eogn.dyndns.org. That address will connect you to an old PC in my home. This isn't the latest high-speed box; in fact, my Web server runs on an eight-year-old 600-MHz Pentium 3 computer that simultaneously runs my mail server and a couple of other programs. If you recently purchased a high-speed computer, you might consider converting the older system that you replaced into a web server.
So, why would you want to host the web pages on your own home computer? How can you install a web server on your personal PC? Will your broadband provider allow it? Can your friends really connect to your PC?
First of all, you need to realize that many companies will host your web pages on their servers at no cost. This may or may not work better for you than installing the web server in your home. For example, RootsWeb, a division of Ancestry.com, is an excellent free service that offers genealogy pages to users; however, RootsWeb is not interested in hosting pictures of your grandchildren or Excel spreadsheets of your bowling league's results. For non-genealogy uses, you need to find another provider. General-purpose free web hosting services include Angelfire (part of Lycos), GeoCities (part of Yahoo), and Tripod.com (also a part of Lycos). You can find others if you click here. All of these services have a limit as to the maximum size of the free web pages they provide.
Of course, there are other drawbacks to these free hosting services. They have to pay their bills somehow and usually do so by selling advertising space on the personal web pages that they host for you. RootsWeb inserts a few banner ads on the top of the web pages you create, not a bad penalty for their great service. If you are looking for a free hosting service to post genealogy data, I would strongly suggest you investigate RootsWeb.
There are disadvantages to RootsWeb, however. FreePages accounts on RootsWeb may not be used for file storage, whether it is MP3 files, zip files, video files, huge images files, etc. You cannot use RootsWeb free pages to host a hundred pictures of your grandchildren. Even GEDCOM files are not welcome on RootsWeb's free pages. Accounts used in this manner will be closed. RootsWeb also does not allow cgi scripts in any user account. You can read the details of these rules at http://accounts.rootsweb.com.
If you are looking for a free hosting service for topics other than genealogy, you will have to tolerate the strong advertising that most other free web site providers use. The other providers mentioned are usually more aggressive in their advertising; they may insert obnoxious pop-up and "pop-under" ads and other gimmicks that may not be acceptable to you. These ads are not under your control and may occasionally peddle products that you find offensive. For example, not everyone wants to see advertisements for porno sites or gambling casinos on top of their church group's Web pages.
Another major drawback to using one of the free web page providers is that you may be assigned a very long Internet address (URL). People might not be able to remember your URL if it is 30 or more letters long. By contrast, the web server in my home has a short address: http://eogn.dyndns.org.
Still one more drawback to these services is the space available to you. The companies that provide free web pages are not interested in having you fill up hundreds of megabytes on their disk drives. Most have a limit of how many megabytes you can store for free. If you want to post lots of files or hundreds of pictures, you will quickly exceed the limits of most free web page providers. On the other hand, if you host on your own PC, the disk space available to you is limited only by your computer's hard drive size. An old computer with a 10-gigabyte hard drive will be sufficient for most people. If that is not enough, I see 200-gigabyte drives available these days for less than $100, and 500-gigabyte drives are available for less than $200. That should be enough storage space for most personal web pages! Buying one of those drives for your in-home web server will also be a lot cheaper than paying for a similar amount of storage space on a web hosting service.
Finally, there is the issue of control. Most web server software gives the owner the ability to control who can access the pages. Access may be controlled by passwords or by IP address or by domain names. There are a number of options to choose from. This is very useful if you want to control who can look at your pictures or download your GEDCOM files. Most of the free web hosting services do not offer this level of control, whereas installing your own web server gives you full control over access. For example, you can grant access to a select group of friends and relatives while locking everyone else out.
Wouldn't it be nice if you could simply host as many web pages and files as you wish on your own PC and allow others to access web pages that you control? The only advertising on your pages would be ads that you place there, if any. The storage space available would be limited only by your own computer. You could have 500 gigabytes of storage space or even more, if you wish. Wouldn't you like to control who can access your data? Wouldn't it be even better if you had a short URL that people could remember? You can easily accomplish all this if you host your web pages at home. Tens of thousands of personal web servers are installed in private residences today and are working well. Installing a web server in your home could be a good solution for you, too.
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