I have had my own website for some time, since '95, which was probably before most people even knew what a website was.I did have help from others of my ilk who had already been having a blast with html.
I started as a college freshman because my university allocated space for each student to host html. I was hard coding my html, no dreamweaver or anything else like that. I learned a lot of html tags and would ask questions from friends. However, the best source was to find a website that I liked and then look at their html code. I copied a lot of code and created what was then a really cool site. I even had some java script that added some alternating and scrolling text to the status bar of the browser. This was a great learning experience for me in both coding techniques and in html.
Later, I discovered cascading style sheets (css). I know I was late to the game with those but I hadn't put a lot of effort into learning new stuff. When I found the idea of css', I thought I was in heaven. I could create menus that did not have to reload everytime and even areas that loaded dynamic content. The biggest benefit was the theming of pages did not have to be repeated. Again, any website that I liked I would look through their html code and now css files, pull out what I liked and use it.
After a few years I graduated and was left hanging in the wind without a host to store my website. Originally I was going to host my own website from my own server in my basement. I began a porject to learn about Apache and I found Lighttpd, which I felt was a cleaner, smoother server. I dived into learning about domain name registration, dns, linux daemons, php, django, rst, and python and a lot of other things associated with hosting my own site. I was stoked. I would become a nerd among nerds. I would have adoring, nerd-loving fans (ok there was and will only ever be just one: my spouse). Sometime near the end of this long learning process, I ran into several show stoppers. Cruel irony.
The first show stopper is uptime. What happens if people begin to count on my site for stuff and then the power goes out in my neighborhood? This could be partially solved by connecting my server to an expensive uninteruptible power supply. But could I count on my internet provider to also have an adequate backup power source so my interface to the outside world would not be severed by said power outage? The answer is no resulting in my site not being available to others in the world who may have electrical power and just happen to be looking for my site.
The second problem is the matter of scale. It is fine for a site with little traffic to be hosted on a residencial internet line but as a site grows it will hog more bandwidth affecting those in my neghborhood. I would have to pay more for more bandwidth and a dedicated line. All of which may be unreliable, see above first issue.
Thus I was left looking for a host with a fast and reliable connection to the outside world. I spent some time looking around for a free hosting site. All of these free hosts must have an income from some source. So they put ads on your site and greatly restrict how much download bandwidth you have. To summarize, I thought I had found a decent solution by using the free google sites. I will simply say that I felt extremely claustrophobic.
I then spent some time looking the big time hosts. I asked some friends who had sites, I looked at sites that I knew and liked to discover who was hosting their site. In the end I chose HostMonster. I will share some of the reasons as I compare HostMonster to another company with whom I have recently had some dealings, WestHost. However, first I feel I should disclose that I actively participate in the HostMonster affilliation program... meaning that if you use my link on the bottom of the page to sign up to use them as a hosting service I will get a minor financial benefit. My opinion is my opinion regardless of how it affects me... I have been told I have no tact. I mention the affiliation program to be open and fair.
So to continue with open and fairness, Hostmonster hosts a large number of sites and boasts about bandwidth. Honestly, that was not the reason at all. Every hosting company will tell you something similar and give you a reason why to choose them over some other company. I was given a great recommendation to hostmonster by two people that I know and respect their technical savy. Even with the recommendation, I would not have blindly chosen HostMonster... I still did my homework.
On to the comparison, I have never personally hosted with WestHost but have spent my time interfacing with them on behalf of someone who does. I have spent time on the phone with both companies and have been treated nicely. Wait time on the phone was minimal and I got to a technician. This was where the differences started to appear. The technicians with whom I spoke at Hostmonster were able to mostly answer my tough questions. They took the time to understand the issue and find an appropriate answer. At WestHost I felt the technicians were not competently briefed on the services they provide and the ins and outs of hosting. They were firm in what they told me despite my insistance to the contrary. I was attempting to use a commercial program to automatically upload information to the site every few minutes. I could not change the ftp program but contacted the programmer at the company and he helped me understand how it was attempting to connect. The program queries the server asking what type of ftp authentication it accepts and the tries to connect via what the server responds. This was the issue as the server, despite what it said, would not accept ftp secure logins. I contact WestHost and ever spoke with a manager. They all assured me that it did accept. I sent them traces from the program and then traces from filezilla. They did not understand the traces and told me the same thing. I was not able to communicate with them adequately enough to have them understand the issue and this has remained unresolved for several months.
Moving on... both HostMonster and WestHost have Cpanel with various add ons and offer similar services. Both allow you complete freedom (within certain legal and ethical guidlines) for your site and how you create it. You have root access to the virtual linux server or, if you really want, an MS server, but why you would want that is beyond me. Upload/download speed nor bandwidth have not been issues. Amount of space for use, for about the same amount of money, is similar. Domain registration, dns services, etc are very close to the same.
I have had good experience with HostMonster and slightly less than good support from WestHost. However, based on my experiences with both, I recommend either with a preference to HostMonster due to what I feel is more competent tech support.