Avoid WHMCS, Blesta, HostBill, ClientExec, Ubersmith Hosting
At 20, I had just started my first company. One year later I was already using WHMCS that has always been there as a constant in my working life.
I have involved myself in different projects ranging from hosting, web development, system administration to blockchain, billing, consulting, logistic and marketplaces. Everything I did was more or less part of this platform.
If something was missing, I got the sense that it should have been integrated. Perfecting this system has been my mission for over a decade.
Today I'm 33, my career is in full swing but I have changed my mind about WHMCS.
Why I Changed My Mind About WHMCS
Encoded source code has never been a problem but WHMCS is a cluster of bugs and silly features. As I said in other posts, development cycle is a forced march where releases go from beta to (un)stable at the speed of light.
Every release incorporates something that forces you to rethink entire chunks of code over and over again all topped off by poor documentation. Outdated information, missing details and undocumented surprises are the norm.
Coding in WHMCS is miserable. It's like if this platform hates to be extended even though it is made for this purpose. Try making something more complex than a template and you condemn yourself to a living nightmare.
Today WHMCS nauseates me. Its management is obtuse and ungrateful to both customers and developers who have contributed to their success. I am sorry to say this, but no other words can describe the current scenario.
They are not pioneers any more. Their greatest strength is going backwards. They are the undisputed masters at ruining everything they touch. «1 step forward, 3 steps back» should be their motto.
If the idea of burning down your own house looks silly enough, first you should be listening to what WHMCS have to say. They surely have a plan that involves a mass extinction event. They are always ready at delivering a gut punch.
In this post I want to explain why providers should prepare to leave WHMCS and also on why competitors don't represent a valid alternative. After 14 years of experience with this platform, I think I can be trusted a little.
Allow me to explain why my opinion changed so drastically without the need to prove everything I say. I've had enough of proving the obvious. In my other blog posts you can get an idea of how limiting is WHMCS as a whole.
The root of the problem in WHMCS can be summarized in two things: what they do (disasters) and what they don't do (fixing bugs). That pretty much sums it up. That's devastating for a software company.
The WHMCS Dictionary
Before we dig into this topic, it is important to fully understand the real meaning of some phrases and schemes that WHMCS staff frequently use. Learn it by heart and you'll become more aware of the real face of this company.
The Genesis of a Feature in WHMCS
The good old days where we would just enjoy new features are gone. First we should start examing how WHMCS decides what features are worthy of attention.
If you think of them choosing from feature requests posted by hundreds of users over the course of a decade, you'd be wrong. That place is a cemetery where good ideas go to die. WHMCS have ears but they don't listen.
Having lost contact with customer base, their vision is out of focus, to say the least. As result, they keep flooding us with sloppy reinterpretations of things we see in other markets and that don't go well with running a hosting business.
They take design from Instagram, authentication from Google, mix it with a bit of Facebook and expect us to make some sense out of this Frankenstein's monster.
As I said numerous times, I'd be glad if they stop delivering new features because prevention is more desirable than treatment. But sadly they don't stop here. Their poor execution in product development is legendary.
We can take as granted that WHMCS want to impose new features without listening but let's say you want to trust them and conform to their vision. Everything will run smoothly, right? Nope.
The quality of their work has worsened to the point that every new feature by default has a problem that won't be addressed. It doesn't matter how big is the hole. WHMCS have no time for fixing bugs, unless they are minor and easy to fix.
You can't expect much from a company constantly working on bombarding customers with pointless and barely tested features that come with the usual shortcomings.
This is not just me speaking my mind. I have worked with hundreds of hosting providers. As time goes by I find myself hearing these same complaints more frequently than ever.
The Bug that Is Older Than My Grandma
Judging from changelogs one would assume that there aren't many bugs in WHMCS releases. The truth is that bugs probably account for the 10% of this software which is scary.
The trick here is that WHMCS never refer to bugs and bug fixes with its name. They say "improvement" instead. We can all agree that fixing a bug certainly is an improvement but you can't hide behind your finger.
I'm a developer too and I know that creating a changelog with many bug fixes is embarrassing but it is what it is. One needs to focus on fixing bugs till they are fewer and fewer.
On the contrary WHMCS claim to have a bug-free software by denying or limiting the use of the word "bug". Maybe they can trick new customers with this but veterans learned the hard way that a stable release of WHMCS is a myth.
There's a reason why only rookies of WHMCS install updates. Old-timers know that the last thing you should do is installing it because it contains a pile of bugs that adds to old ones in a mesh of intrigues that takes weeks to understand.
As a developer I spent the last few years on this platform facing inconceivable bugs. Issuing more than 1500 invoices in a row in the attempt to identify the source of a problem was the norm.
Whenever we would point out the many issues that this software has gradually accumulated, we would be met with one of the following replies from the staff:
- «It's working as intented» including when it causes tax evasion
- «Submit a feature request». They are masters at turning bugs into a feature requests
- «Thanks for reporting the bug» and that's it. No ETA
- Enjoy the silence
At the end of the day I got used to solve such bugs on my own, mindful of the very few times WHMCS tried to fix something but only made things worse. They are superficial to say the least.
They don't fix the root cause but simply place a patch on top of another. Fast forward 10 years and this software resembles a poisoned meatball. It looks fine but under the hood there's Ragnarǫk.
Complex bugs that can't be fixed in less than an hour simply go in WHMCS ignore list. They literally don't care but there's more. Sadly their unprofessionalism is not limited to bugs.
They claim the right to change stuff without knowing anything about that specific field they are changing. They proved the world more than once that their billing and SEO knowledge is clown-level.
If they were car manufacturers rather than developers then there would be cars with triangular wheels, driver seats facing backward and airbags just below your butt.
They don't do researches or study anything. I started fixing billing bugs in 2008 with Billing Extension. Belive it or not 100% of problems I fixed are still in the core of the latest version of WHMCS.
In their defense, we all know that new features bring money more than fixing bug does but there must be a limit. Clearly that's not the case of WHMCS constantly focused on pumping out new stuff. v10 will probably include laser beams, just another pointless feature that no one asked for.
WHMCS Think We Are Stupid
When WHMCS informed customers about the latest price change, we all did some calculations. At the higher license tier we witnessed a shocking 3154% price increase during the coronavirus pandemic. It's maths, not an opinion.
At the time the license had a maximum cost of 479 $ per year. With the new pricing the upper limit went up to 15.599 $. This is a screenshot I took from WHMCS site before they performed a pathetic subterfuge.
When you increase prices so much (even 4000% for some) you create a lot of discontent. It was so incredible that perhaps many questioned if it was April Fools' Day. Not surprisingly the internet was full of people referring to the 4 digit price increase.
Don't get me wrong, their software their rules but what irritates me is that after 2 months WHMCS started to insult their customer's intelligence. Are you ready for this? Here's John from WHMCS team.
When I read it at first I thought it was another April Fools' Day but it was July. How can they say so firmly that hundreds of their own customers are not telling the truth? Here you go.
Pricing page has been updated so that it no longer shows the 3 most expensive tiers. They've been replaced with a sexy "Contact us for pricing". This way no one can say anything about the 4 digit price increase. Big brains at WHMCS!
They're hiding the most expensive tiers from public view to block out the voices about the crazy price increase we witnessed. The increase in fact now stops at "just" 651% but wait a moment! There's more.
Recently they removed pricing page. What is left now are entry-level plans that cost not more than 44.95 $. Within the next few months I'm expecting John to claim that we had just a 12% increase. Just brilliant!
If someone from WHMCS is reading this post, may I suggest them to remove any reference to prices? This way John can tell us stories about the price increase that never happened. It was just an illusion.
I don't know who is in charge of such decisions but whoever it is, WHMCS is disrespecting their entire customer base with everything they say. They are masters at passive-aggressive communication.
Lying Is in WHMCS DNA
Passive-aggressive communication goes hand in hand with lies. Let me give you a nice view of how WHMCS treats customers.
At the time of writing this, the story goes back to a couple of weeks ago. Let me give you a little background.
Perhaps you know that WHMCS have a reseller program. Maybe you also heard something about eligibility requirements. If you don't, here is a quick recap:
- Developers are not allowed to resell WHMCS licenses
- Reseller program is reserved to providers bundling licenses with hosting
- Licenses can't be reselled as standalone products
Such rules are in place since WHMCS launched reseller program more than a decade ago and are still valid today.
We recently discovered that some developers, namely Theme Metro and the infamous WGS that steals contents from this website, are reselling licenses in contrast with the above rules.
They are developers hence they don't qualify for the program per definition. Moreover they are reselling licenses as standalone products. There's no bundling with hosting products at all.
How is it possible they got approved by WHMCS? Perhaps there has been some mistake? Nope. WHMCS exactly know what is going on. Both Theme Metro and WGS advertise this partnership anywhere on the internet including WHMCS official forum.
Ironically, Theme Metro is also trying to abuse his position proposing partnerships to competitors like me. He'd want us to help with reselling the licenses he shouldn't be selling. All this at the expense of people that must follow rules they have been allowed to break.
One day Zomex raised the question and asked this question: why is WHMCS allowing specific companies to violate rules? Obviously the good old John managed to respond without responding.
After 45 days of several passive-aggressive non-replies from WHMCS alternated with silence, we finally got some sort of response. Privately in a ticket John said the following. I quote:
«We have some legacy resellers that are bundling with non-hosting related products»
If I may ask, how did they managed to get your approval in the first place? That's simple. WHMCS did back door deals clearly contrary to the rules we have been subjected for more than a decade. John continues with:
«We are no longer accepting new application for this category of resellers»
John, you lier. This category of resellers, as you call it, has never been allowed by your own written rules! What I find irritating is that in the same day we received this request from WHMCS.
Apparently, unlike John states privately, they can make an exception for me and Zomex. I wonder why. Maybe because we raised this question and they want to proceed hiding stuff under the carpet throwing us a bone. Dear WHMCS, I'm not a dog.
The lesson to learn here is that lying is in WHMCS DNA. They're also very flexible and disrespectful to do back door deals in contrast with rules. The same rules that forced many to rule out from the reseller program over the last 14 years.
So now we have basically two groups of people:
- The lucky ones that WHMCS allowed to break the rules at the expense of others
- Ones that are not worthy WHMCS attention that account for 99% of user base
What disappoints me is that WHMCS fail to realize how such "special deals" negatively affects others. They're promoting an unhealthy competition where companies are subjected to different rules and compete with different weapons.
Why should we stay and support a platform that is founded on greediness, disrespect, lies and unprofessionalism? Just to be repeatedly ignored and subjected to back door deals, inconceivable price increases and bugs?
As much as WHMCS claims to love and welcome discussion, the thread has been closed. I opened it again but I guess there isn't much we can expect from them.
What WHMCS REALLY Want From You
Like it or not, it's clear to me that WHMCS don't see any future for small and medium sized hosting providers but let's proceed with order.
They keep pushing on things like MarketConnect that many don't use or hate. This is the place where WHMCS is trying hard to convert providers into a worthless group of resellers of services from big brands.
You can bet that for every service they manage to sell through Marketplace, they earn a percentage which leads us to their other plan that aims to speed up this process even further.
We moved from the nulling lifetime licenses to monthly subscriptions. Don't get me wrong, that's perfectly fine. Software development is labour intensive process that never ends. Constant investments are required.
The problem is that WHMCS created a connection betwen the price of the license and the number of active customers. Long story short WHMCS tax their customers' revenue. The more you earn, the more you pay.
If it doesn't impress you, don't forget they increased prices in the order of 3000 and 4000% giving 3 months' notice in the middle of COVID-19 crisis. That's very kind from them.
As I like to say, they moved from taxing customers to milking them like cattle. The message is clear. They are leading small and medium sized companies to death. You can either shut down, go away or become a reseller.
They can do that safely as currently WHMCS is the best software to manage a hosting company. There isn't much one can do to contrast their policies. Migrating to solutions of inferior value in fact costs time and isn't worth the effort.
In this context, WHMCS new employers are big brands from the hosting industry. Customers have been relegated to the role of quiet payers. Not surprisingly, the discontent towards WHMCS is huge since they have lost touch with their community.
Speaking of community, there were many prolificent third-party developers in WHMCS (myself included). Many providers choosed this platform just because of that.
Unfortunately today there are probably less than 5 developers left. The old saying about WHMCS being the hosting software with the biggest community of developers is an old memory from long ago.
As time goes by, I keep seeing collegues leaving this platform to start new projects somewhere else. Even I started a new project that has nothing to do with the hosting world but I still have plans and hope in this market.
The Future of the Hosting Industry
You can take as granted that in this whole industry every software is intended to cost you more and more. Or even worse they want a percentage of your revenue.
If you think you are safe because you are leaving WHMCS for Blesta or any other panel, think twice. It's just a question of time before competitors will adopt the same decisions and pricing model. Allow me to explain.
What we are seeing here is WHMCS capitalizing on their leadership position taking unpopular decisions one after the other. They can do that without risking much (apart reputation) since they made competitors irrelevant for more than a decade.
In recent months due to their crazy price increase, many are trying hard to convince themselves and others that platforms like Blesta, HostBill, ClientExec and Ubersmith are valid alternatives.
In this contex, every small thing such platforms do, say or promise boosts the hype. People go crazy when the CEO one of these companies promise that they won't charge WHMCS rates.
I guess many still haven't learned the lesson with Plesk and cPanel. In this industry promises are meant to be broken. They're just a flash in the pan meant to attract customers.
Also don't forget there's a huge technological gap to close with WHMCS. Moreover it is worth to remind that ages ago WHMCS was exactly like all Blesta, HostBill, ClientExec and Ubersmith.
They were listening to customers, they were active on forums, friendly, focused on making the software better for providers and most importantly there were honoring "Lifetime licenses". Look at WHMCS now. They turned into the opposite.
WHMCS competitors need to grow and will do anything to attract new customers. As soon as they become relevant, they will surely stab you in the back selling you stories about improving the quality of their software.
The question here is not who is better, cheaper or friendlier than who. Eventually they all turn into the same sh**. I don't see how bouncing between the same stuff and business models can make any difference.
Not to mention that the provider that keeps moving from one panel to another, is condemning itself to decline. How one can boost the growth of his business by constantly downgrading its technology level and by using second-class softwares?
So, What's the Solution?
We need to understand that the root of the problem is that there's no choice for providers. All softwares are heading in the same direction regardless of what they appear to be right now.
I am convinced that the only escape is to leave such a toxic environment and embrace open source & free software. Let's quit this game where hosting softwares fight each other at our expense.
I do know that such a software doesn't exist that's why I decided to create it from scratch.
If you think that I'm exaggerating and building castles in the air, understand this. Over the years I managed to deliver more useful features and fixes for WHMCS bugs in my modules working alone than the entire staff of WHMCS combined.
Let me give you an idea of what I'm talking about. Here is a small and unrepresentative portion of what I have done in WHMCS during the last 2 years:
- An entire CMS with blog, news, docs, comments, feature requests
- SEO perks, Sitemap generator, Structured Data and Open Graph Protocol
- Facebook Pixel and LinkedIn Insight Tag
- Electronic invoicing (not available in english)
- Credit notes, invoice suppression, document workflow management
- Cash Flow to track inflow and outflow of money
- Monthly invoicing to reduce invoices by 80% and fees by 18%
- Advanced Invoice Data Snapshot
- Service Level Agreement
- Recurring commissions
- Monthly milestones
- Multiple new attribution models
- VIES, tax stamp, Australian GST & ABN Lookup
- SorTable, HereLang and MagicInput
- The biggest collection of free action hooks for WHMCS
This is just the tip of the iceberg. I even maintain an extensive documentation in two languages not counting this same blog you are reading. All this working alone on this unfriendly platform named WHMCS that no longer deserves my time.
I am directing my passion, knowledge, skills and connections on this newborn platform. The project is named Leap. Don't ask for ETA. It will take pretty long time to complete. Years for sure.
You can find all details on Github. At the moment we are working on the framework (yes, more people are involved) and funds are not a problem. If you want to partecipate or help, simply watch and star the repository.
At this stage I don't want to share much or get too many people involved otherwise the project would quickly turn into a meaningless wishlist of features. Don't worry, I already know what is needed as I'm working with several providers.
In this moment I prefer to lay the foundations counting on a small group of people I personally know.
As for funds, I will be using Github sponsors and donations (free choice and not forced) but I will not enable them till the software reaches an acceptable level. I don't like asking money only based on my good intentions that still need to be proved.
As for WHMCS, I'm not leaving it yet. I'll keep supporting my modules but no more new shiny features from me. I will also stop fighting windmills. Fixing this software is not sustainable especially when WHMCS staff is the biggest bug we have.