7 Free Alternatives to cPanel

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cPanel is a very popular Web Hosting Control Panel (WHCP) but it isn’t the only one in the market. These powerful applications allow users to easily control and manage their web hosting accounts. Most WHCPs are Graphic User Interface-driven making them easy to use for many people.

Although technically you can set up a website on a server or even virtual machine without a WHCP, the process is very involved. For those with less technical knowledge working without a WHCP could be impossible.

Today we’re going to look at 7 alternative WHCPs that you can opt for if you aren’t keen on either cPanel or Plesk.

1. SPanel

SPanel dashboard

Website: https://www.spanel.io/

Technically, SPanel is free but it does come with a few caveats. For example, because it was developed by ScalaHosting, this control panel is currently only available on their very own VSP Cloud plans. The company spent three years developing SPanel and released it for use in mid-2018.

Aside from the use of SPanel by ScalaHosting users, a further testimony to the quality of this WHCP lies in other users and even web hosting providers who have been asking about licensing fees. Of course, part of that stems from the cPanel price increase. 

From a user point of view, SPanel is every bit as functional and easy to use as any good WHCP would be. The familiar graphic user interface (GUI) allows quick and easy access to most popular features such as PHP version selection, compatibility with MariaDB, WordPress installer, File Manager, and more. 

On a more technical level it is supposed to interface well with cPanel for smooth migrations. This means that it’s an ideal candidate for those seeking to escape this popular platform. SPanel also comes Memcached by default for better performance.

Where to Get SPanel?

For those who have an interest in SPanel, there are a few ways you can go about getting started. For individual users, you can get in touch with ScalaHosting and ask for a demo. For those offering web hosting services, you’ll have to enter discussions with them on how to go about that.

2. Webuzo

Webuzo dashboard

Website: https://webuzo.com/

Webuzo is a WHCP developed and sold by Softaculous, the company renowned for the web application installer. Rather than a single integrated program, Webuzo was developed as a LAMP stack, meaning it is made up of a combination of various open source software.

Designed for deployment on Cloud technologies, Webuzo was originally intended to offer web hosts or other solutions providers an easy way to launch and manage various applications. That was the origin of the LAMP stack in the first place.

This architecture allows it to have several different contained environments that can simultaneously deploy and run various applications such as WordPress and Joomla. The result is an ideal platform for testing and development.

Moving down a layer, Webuzo can also act as a server management utility, allowing users to handle basic tasks offered by WHCPs such as FTP user management, DNS handling, Cron jobs, Database management, and much more.

The combined utility resulted in a WHCP with both administrative and utility roles, much like the services offered by cPanel. Although Softaculous does offer a free version of Webuze it does come with some caveats and limitations so as not to cut into their target commercial market. Regardless, most individual users should be able to use it for free in single instance VPS spaces with little issue.

Where to Get Webuzo?

Webuzo is quite popular and can be found with several web hosts including top names like Interserver and A2 Hosting. Of course, it can also be installed on almost any host’s VPS servers if you like – if it runs on CentOS, Red Hat, Scientific Linux, or Ubuntu.

3. Site Tools by SiteGround

Siteground Site Tools
Site Tools by SiteGround

Website: https://www.siteground.com/

In a similar initiative to what ScalaHosting did, SiteGround, another top name in the web hosting business started developing their own control panel a few years back. They recently announced that Site Tools would be offered to their new VPS customers in the place of cPanel.

The timing again coincides with the recent cPanel price hike announcement which makes it obvious again that pricing is affecting web hosts seriously. Officially, SiteGround’s rationale is that they were not keen on the direction cPanel was headed in and wanted to offer their users different functionality in their WHCP.

Aside from establishing a basic WHCP, Site Tools allows users to use it as a White Label product, meaning they’ll be able to offer their own customers control panel access via a non-SiteGround branded interface. 

There are a ton of options for users in Site Tools and the GUI is basically like any other. A simple menu-driven navigation system accompanied by a large dashboard-style display area makes it very familiar. Perhaps the single biggest complaint I’ve seen about this WHCP so far seems to only revolve around the fact that it isn’t cPanel.

Yet like it or not, it’s the one that will be available to SiteGround users moving forward and they will also be migrating existing customers over to this from cPanel.

Where to Get Site Tools?

Site Tools is developed by SiteGround and currently is offered exclusively by them. It isn’t possible to grab an installer and use it on your own hosting account – yet. Doubtless as they work out the bugs and it gains in popularity we’ll see white label versions of this branch out to other web hosting companies under some form of license or agreement.

4. Webmin

Webmin dashboard

Website: http://www.webmin.com/

Webmin was designed for use on the Unix platform which means that in today’s environment, it’s able to run on native Linux systems. The latest versions have also been modified slightly to allow deployment on Windows as well, albeit with more limited functionality due to the original core design.

Way back when it was released in 1997, Webmin was intended only as an easy Unix system management utility. However, thanks to the open source nature, users have been adding on functionality and today there are two important branches of Webmin.

The first is Virtualmin which is an add-on module which offers users a unified control panel for the management of multiple hosts. Virtualmin behaves much like any other WHCP such as Plesk or cPanel, letting users easily manage databases, mailboxes, DNS, and more. It comes in a free version under the GPL license as well as a commercial ‘Pro’ version with far more advanced features such as spam filtering, script installer, and more. 

The second is Usermin which offers more limited functionality – dealing mainly with email only. It allows users to set up and manage webmail instances and is usually used by those offering simple webmail solutions to clients. Although technically Usermin can also manage database and configuration files, those are better handled with Virtualmin.

The two modules of Webmin can be combined for extended functionality. Other modules with special functions can also be added on to Webmin for those with specific needs.

Where to Get Webmin?

Having been in the market for so long, WebMin has perhaps the biggest operating system compatibility (even though they are all Linux distributions). For those looking for Webmin hosting options they’re only available on a handful of providers such as Atjeu Hosting and eRacks. You can, of course, install it on your own VPS space if you have a compatible Linux distribution running.

5. aaPanel

aaPanel dashboard

[fonticon icon=”fa-globe”/] Website: https://www.aapanel.com/

aaPanel was designed to run on CentOS but it is also deployable on various other distributions such a Debian and Ubuntu. The catch is that there are some minor (yet essential features) that require CentOS to work, such as the DNS Manager.

Installation of this easy-to-use GUI-driven WHCP only requires a single line of code which varies depending on what OS you are deploying it on. Once set up you can use as it a single source of deployment, management, and monitoring of your web server.

The interface is extremely easy to use and in fact reminds me very much of the Plesk environment I use to manage some of my sites. For help with aaPanel there is a forum hosted by the site which has some active users.

aaPanel was also designed as a LAMP stack which means that in a sense it’s modular. You can choose and install the various versions of some components such as Nginx, Apache, PHP, and others. Thankfully, these modules are available as 1-click installs.

It is also quite lightweight and can run on most VPS plans, even budget-friendly options. Minimum requirements are a mere 512MB of RAM and 100MB of storage space – less if you opt to install only the panel without extra frills.

Where to Get aaPanel?

As with all other alternative WHCPs, aaPanel is available in limited places as an ‘in place’ option. There are some hosts like Rose Hosting which offers aaPanel on their VPS plan but otherwise you’ll need to install it on your own space.

6. CentOS Control Web Panel

CentOS web panel
CentOS Web Panel dashboard

Website: http://centos-webpanel.com/

CentOS Web Panel (CWP) is free and comprehensive, allowing the easy management of single accounts or even multiple servers. It has a rich feature set that allows users to handle almost every aspect of their web servers.

Features packaged in include Apache Web Server, PHP plus version selector, Database and email management as well as other tools for security and reliability like a firewall configuration server. Live monitoring is also available plus handlers for voice or video streaming. Notable is that you can easily handle migrations to CWP from cPanel with an easy to use tool.

Expectedly, CWP is only available for use on CentOS-based systems so you’ll need to ensure that your host allows installation of this OS on your VPS account if you want to use it. Overall, it’s quite lightweight considering the features available. You only need 512MB of memory along with 10GB of space.

Do note though that some of the features are optional and selectable during installation, so if you want all the bells and whistles you may need more space and memory for optimal performance. Also, it is important to know that once you install CWP the only way to reliably get rid of it is to refresh the OS – there is no uninstaller for this WHCP.

Where to Get CentOS Web Panel?

Although CWP can be installed on any CentOS-based account, there are some hosts that have adopted it as a standard. Altushost is one of the few popular names that support CentOS WP in their VPS plans.

7. ZPanel

zPanel dashboard

Website: http://zpanelcp.sourceforge.net/

Unlike most free WHCPs, zPanel can be used on both Windows and Linux-based systems. This allows users a great deal of flexibility and an option where not all that many exist. It’s GUI-driven interface makes it easy to use zPanel to set up a web server almost anywhere.

Originally started off by an individual in North America more than 15 years ago, it has since undergone further development by a stream of others. Its long and colourful history has muddied the waters somewhat and parts of zPanel can be found in various places today, with some barely being updated.

Being open source, it is still available for free use, making it an option for those who are looking to avoid paying costly licensing fees. As mentioned earlier, it’s dual-platform capability means that you can install it almost anywhere. 

Where to Get zPanel?

zPanel can be found on Sourceforge if you want to download and install it on your own hosting account. For those seeking a built-in solution there are not really that many choices, although one notable host, A2 Hosting, does offer it as an option.

Why Seek an Alternative to cPanel?

In the web hosting industry, there are two dominant names that stand out – cPanel and Plesk. Traditionally, Plesk is available on both Windows and Linux based platforms, while mainstream cPanel is only available on Linux.

Both are very versatile and powerful WHCP applications and combined, occupy a shocking 98.4% market share. This means that if you were to be looking for web hosting, one of these are likely to be the one offered by most hosting providers.

The problem is that cPanel was recently acquired by Oakley Capital, the same investment group which also holds Plesk. With such a large market share between these two WHCPs, the result has become a near-monopoly.

We are already seeing the effects of this with the recent cPanel price hike announcement (see table below).

cPanel New Pricing Model

Before there was simply VPS and dedicated pricing – cPanel charges $20/month per VPS server and $45/month per dedicated server. The new account-base pricing makes a huge difference to people with more than 5 accounts (mainly the resellers and hosting companies) – we estimate the cost would increase 800% – 1,200% per server in this new pricing structure.

The cost of using cPanel may no longer make sense.

Reactions from Hosting Companies

Although pricing increases will vary depending on account types, web hosting companies across the board will have to pass those costs on to users. 

In fact, many already have. For example, both Liquid Web and Shinjiru have announced impending price increases for their customers shortly after cPanel broke the news. For the hosting providers who have not yet done so, it’s likely only a matter of time.

Aside from price increase announcements for cPanel accounts, several web hosts are now actively offering their users alternatives. LiquidWeb, SiteGround, and Interserver are among those who no longer push cPanel as their preferred control panel.

In fact, some hosts like MyServerPlanet, KnownHost, and D9Hosting are offering to port their users over to alternative solutions like DirectAdmin, a much cheaper control panel. LiquidWeb is prompting their users to switch to Interworx, a cheaper solution with a 3-year locked license price guarantee. ScalaHosting and SiteGround on the other hand have decided to ramp up their development and release of their own control panels.

The decisions vary, but we are in general seeing a shift in dynamic. Time will tell if the moves will have significant impact on cPanel or not.

Conclusion: Free Alternatives Do Exist and Are Readily Accessible

Many web hosting customers around the world are content to stick with whatever WHCP that our hosting solutions provider offers us. The reason for this is that many opt for mainstream providers, as can be seen from the massive market share that cPanel and Plesk command together.

For those who prefer mainstream, there will be a fair share of web hosts who will remain steadfast in this area. Excellent hosts such as Serverfreak have anticipated the market shift and done their best to protect their customer’s interests.

“Price hikes are inevitable, especially when companies have near-monopoly in the market. The best we can do is to cushion the impact as far as possible for our customers. At the end of the day, quality of product and quality of service counts. Thankfully, both are areas we have long focused on.”

– Sam Lee, Founder at Serverfreak

Yet the tide is changing, caused by increasing fees plus a monopoly over the market created by the same company now owning cPanel and Plesk. Many hosting providers and indeed, users themselves, are actively seeking out other options.

From what I’ve seen so far, there is more than enough choice to go around for them to pick from. In fact, all many of the existing alternatives need would be a little help in the way of more web hosts adopting them as standards.

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Article by Timothy Shim

Timothy Shim is a writer, editor, and tech geek. Starting his career in the field of Information Technology, he rapidly found his way into print and has since worked with International, regional and domestic media titles including ComputerWorld, PC.com, Business Today, and The Asian Banker. His expertise lies in the field of technology from both consumer as well as enterprise points of view.
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