I’ll take web sites for $200, Alex: Part II

(continued from Part I)

The kind of web site I wanted to create is usually built on top of a Content Management System (CMS) that becomes the administrative user interface as well as the framework for web pages that get served to web site visitors. The first thing I learned is that there are *thousands* of CMS products floating about the internet, from simple “guest book” type scripts to full blown corporate extranet management systems designed for use by tens of thousands of employees and customers. I’ve also been looking for an excuse to learn ASP.NET, so I decided to narrow my search to CMS software that was based on ASP.NET. Finally, the software had to be free or very inexpensive.

Based on these criteria, I narrowed the choices down to Community Server [now Telligent Community], DotNetNuke, Rainbow Portal, and newcomer FlexCMS. Community Server is free for personal use, but for my planned use it would have cost several hundred dollars — probably out of my range, but I still downloaded and tested it for comparison purposes. DotNetNuke is open source based on a permissive BSD-style license (free to use or modify for any purpose), plus it has a large and relatively mature user base. Rainbow Portal is released under the LPGL license, with discussions currently underway about changing the license. Both DotNetNuke and Rainbow Portal are based on a Microsoft sponsored sample ASP application called IBuySpy. Rainbow Portal seemed more polished, but I ran into some limitations with both pretty quickly. FlexCMS, while seemingly more logically designed and built from the ground up on the latest version of ASP.NET, was clearly lacking a lot of features that the other two free packages included. In the end I chose DotNetNuke because it had a more permissive license and a larger user base to draw support from (I found the documentation for all these packages fairly useless, so peer support was a must).

Next step was finding an inexpensive web host that would enable me to install, run, and administer an ASP.NET/SQL Server application. If you’ve ever looked for a web host, you’ll know that it’s sometimes difficult to find one that provides the remote management capabilities and server software that you need (in my case ASP.NET and SQL Server running on IIS, which are less common than PHP/MySQL solutions running on Linux). I’m aware of several quality hosting companies. Pair networks usually gets good reviews, but they don’t do Windows. I’ve used GoDaddy before for registering domain names without any problems, so I headed there to check out their prices and policies for hosting plans. When I saw that they offered a Windows based economy plan with plenty of storage space and bandwidth for $3.19 per month, I decided to just register my new domain name and sign up for GoDaddy’s shared hosting plan on the spot, and be done with it.

Total cost for DotNetNuke CMS software, 2 years of web hosting, and a new domain name registered for two years: $88. Not bad. In Part III I’ll show you how DotNetNuke works.

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