cPanel vs Plesk – Does It Really Matter?

It has long been my experience that most seasoned webmasters are huge fans of the Web site control panel available with most Web hosts known simply as cPanel. Those who use it exclaim often about its power and general ease of use over the alternatives such as Plesk. I, on the other hand, am convinced anyone who thinks cPanel is easier to use than Plesk needs to stop drinking the pond water.

For less experienced users, I remain firm in my belief that Plesk blows cPanel out of the water with its ease of use. But rather than going on and on, let’s take a solid look at what this looks like for Joe Average, shall we?

Plesk demo:

Without even having a clue as to what I am doing, I can easily determine that I can add a domain name from the first page I arrive at. Just click domains, create new, follow the prompts. Simple. Instantly, everything I need is toggled to be turned on. Even after hitting next, I am instantly presented with the place where I set up my FTP account. I cannot overstate how “droolingly” simple Plesk makes this — it’s almost frightening. I also have access to toggling support for perl, php, python, or whatever else I need WITHOUT needing to dance around from option to option. By continuing to hit next, each step even down to domain policy is right there without me ever having to search for it.

Once my initial domain is set up, once again, Plesk owns the experience by instantly providing me with clear indications of where I need to go to, then sets up my email accounts. Everything else I need is right there at my fingertips — for this given domain that I created, as well. Subdomains, etc. — the works.

cPanel/WHM:

Immediately, we find things overcomplicated. Why? Because I must decide whether I start with cPanel or WHM. Remember,  I am looking at this from the perspective of a very new user. I am not relying on any experience here, rather, I’m looking at how intuitive the options really are. Moving on.

Being as it appears that cPanel is the control panel and WHM is for managing the Web hosting accounts, I guess one would start with WHM? Upon arriving at the WHM demo account, I am assuming that one would start with Basic cPanel/WHM Setup? After clicking on this, I find boxes where I am to enter in my default nameservers. Okay, did that… where’s the next button? And also, where do I add in my domain?

Frustrated, I then click home and proceed to try account information, then trying server configuration, (pulling my hair out now), then finally setting on Multi Account Functions. None of these options are doing ANYTHING of value for just starting out. Awesome. So I click home once again. Wait, I see a cPanel link — perhaps this will help me get my domain set up? Not even close…

Finally I wise up and scroll down on the lower left side of the screen. At the bottom, there is an option for create a new account. Maybe this is where I add my domain? Yes, this is it. And this looks much better, too. So I add in the needed info. I also like the default mail settings detection option — this is good. Okay, all of this is set. Sadly, this is as far as the demo will take me. So I can only assume I must set up email from cPanel, then? Back in cPanel, I find email, choose it, and set up my account. Easy enough. Cool. Adding FTP, also doable from cPanel easily. There, that ought to do it for me.

What I learned from a newbie experience:

While cPanel/WHM are certainly usable enough, they are very poorly laid out. Seriously, cPanel and WHM should not be separated like this. I realize why they are, but the end user simply wants it to be combined, right there, and easy to navigate. Plesk wins easily by making the entire setup process as complex as installing software onto Windows. Just keep hitting next.

So yes, cPanel is definitely demonstrating more powerful options with the ability to restart things like POP3, SSH, DNS, and FTP services. Despite this, Plesk makes getting started MUCH easier. That and the fact that most of the functionality folks want from a Web server is right there for the choosing with Plesk, all without dancing from setting to setting in a blind hope of getting things working.

To the advanced user, cPanel obviously makes sense as you are already familiar with jumping all over the place to get things done in exchange for powerful server control. But for most people, Plesk is going to tick folks off far less when they are simply trying to get their Web site up and running without a trip to the nearest freelancing Web site for help.

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  • http://lichtman.ca Jeremy Lichtman

    I’ve used both cPanel and Plesk for years.

    I personally prefer Plesk’s simplicity as well – forget about the end-user, somebody managing a hosting company needs things streamlined any more. For complex stuff, there’s always root login.

    The only real gripe I have about Plesk is that many things tend to run under the same user. This is a serious vulnerability for security – when somebody hacks a Plesk-based server, everybody suffers. Virtualizing the server only partially mitigates things.

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  • Zach Mitchell

    First of all, are you looking at this from the perspective of a end-user or a web-host. You don’t choose WHM or cPanel, they are the same technology. WHM is the backend of cPanel used for experience technicians, which might be why your so confused.

  • http://techcores.com Taylor Jasko

    I’ve used both, and it really depends on the user. Plesk is the easy to use and very graphical interface. Where in cPanel, you have a bit more features, but not really the looks.

  • Jeremy Landes

    Have you looked at DirectAdmin?

    http://www.directadmin.com

  • Shiva

    Doesn’t matter to me which is used, I try to stay out of mine. My host has turned my cPanel into a huge carnival of ads for their own upgrades. Buy this, buy that, go green, be faster.

    Blah

  • http://www.twitter.com/cpanel @mariorodriguez

    Matt thanks for the thorough response the cPanel community has spoke on this topic as well in our forums and as a community member myself prior to joining the cPanel team I can say that community feedback is key to the overall success @cPanel.

    We have made some significant changes in our latest 11.25 release and are continually working towards enhancing the product from an end-user (novice) perspective. I would like to chat with you a bit more and possibly gain greater insight on what kind of direction and expectations you feel are important from an end-user perspective.

    Thanks again for the feedback this drives the @cPanel product development. Also thanks to @chrispirillo for tweeting this so that we could find it :)

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  • Kint Verbal

    Plesk is horrible: idiot, redundant menus, PHP compatibility issues (very, very bad). On the other hand it’s free.

    Now, let’s not try and compare open office with MS office next, ok? Or at least, not claiming open office is better because you wrote and printed one page saying “close the door” to stick near your cubicle and it went all right.

  • http://www.facebook.com/avaiki jason brown

    You had me at “…droolingly simple…”

  • http://www.thanoshotels.com Roy Murphy

    I’d agree completely with the article.
    I’ve just migrated from Plesk to cPanel both on Linux platforms (Red Hat & CentOS).
    As a new user of cPanel & WHM which is very illogically laid out compared with Plesk.
    However, I did find Plesk very buggy, and eventually killed my last 2 month old top of the range sever to no less than 6 rebuilds in 4 months!
    Having painstakingly learned the ins and outs of cPanel after a few all nighters to get my sites back up and running, cPanel blows Plesk out of the water in terms of power and complete control. I’m now hooked with cPanel and it’s hard to use quirks. I’m a veteran programmer/developer who’s managed over 1000 websites over the last 20 years, I couldn’t believe how long it took to get to grips with cPanel, but the pain and anguish was well worth the move.

  • BigDave

    Thanks, this article help me (intermediate user) make my decision on cpanel or plesk…I decided on Plesk. Maybe in the future things will change, but for now plesk it is Thanks