|Domain registration included||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|POP e-mail accounts||0||0||5||10||15|
|Data transfer per month||1GB||5GB||10GB||20GB||30GB|
|Phone and e-mail support||No||E-mail and live chat||E-mail and live chat||E-mail and live chat||E-mail and live chat|
Advanced users with paid accounts can use Tripod's traffic reports and raw access logs to gauge the popularity of their Web sites. Even Tripod's free accounts support CGI and Perl scripts, but there's no sitewide MySQL or PHP support, although PHP-powered modules are available. Tripod also lacks secure FTP access or regular account backups that let you roll your pages back to previous versions (a Tripod spokesman said sitewide backups are made in case Tripod's servers crash). Even worse, Tripod is pretty stingy when it comes to disk space: the pricier $12 and $20/month packages only offer 100MB and 150MB of disk space, compared to 2GB and 4GB for Yahoo's $12 and $20/month plans. Setup for either a free or paid account is a simple, five-minute process. Once you've entered your personal information and chosen a username and password, you then pick the type of ads that will appear on your site (if you're getting a free account): the choices range from autos and computers to shopping and travel. After you've picked your ads (and skipped past a few opt-in special offers), you're ready to build.
Tripod boasts a series of beginner-friendly tools that make Web building a snap. First up is Site Builder, a Web-building wizard that lets you choose from more than 180 templates with themes ranging from personal "about me"-type sites and photo albums to small-business sites and e-zines. Once you've picked a template, you can substitute the placeholder text and images with your own content, or insert add-ons such as search boxes, date and time stamps, page counters, animated cursors, guest books, forms, PayPal icons, and even e-mail newsletters (if you sign up with Tripod partner Constant Contact). You can also add your own background music, videos, or flash animation or grab some clip art from Tripod's 10,000-image library.
Want to jump on the blogging bandwagon? Tripod's easy-to-use Blog Builder includes most of the features you'd expect in a dedicated blogging service, such as site templates (34 are available), a posting tool and editor, support for multiple contributors, and RSS feeds. Budding photographers will warm to Tripod's photo album tool, which includes 10 templates and lets you upload up to eight pictures at a time, complete with titles and captions.
While Tripod offers plenty of tools for beginners, there's not much for intermediate Web builders--namely, there's no WYSIWYG tool that lets you drag and drop page elements, a key feature that allows for greater control of your Web sites. Advanced coders can use Tripod's free-form HTML template to build Web pages from scratch, but those looking for middle ground between hard-core coding and Tripod's cookie-cutter templates are out of luck. The good news, however, is that Tripod offers Microsoft FrontPage support and FTP access for all account levels, including free accounts--a welcome benefit, given that most other Web hosts charge for FTP access.
Of course, free Web hosting often comes with a price: advertisements. In Tripod's case, you'll pay dearly. At the top of our free page is a standard Tripod banner ad along with four jumbo sponsored ads just beneath. Sponsored ads vary depending on the content of your site, which leads to some strange results; for example, we weren't too happy about the jarring "Drug addicted infants" ad headlined on our page of baby photos. There's also a second banner ad that stretches across the bottom of the screen, and one or more pop-ups may appear as well, making for an annoying, screen-cluttering visit. Tripod's service and support is spotty, at best. Those with free accounts can comb through Tripod's extensive online FAQ and browse a treasure trove of tutorials, courtesy of Webmonkey, the respected Web-building resource from Net veteran Hotwired. Upgrading to a paid account gets you "priority" e-mail service (we got a reply about two hours after sending in a question) and "live" support via I-Mail, an Internet chat service, available between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET, weekdays only. Don't expect instant feedback from tech support, however. While Tripod claims that the average wait for I-Mail help is about 45 seconds, we waited nearly an hour for a reply before giving up. We had better luck on our second try, when we waited about 20 minutes for an answer. Call us crazy, but we don't think a 20-minute wait qualifies as live tech support. Phone support is nonexistent compared to Yahoo's and EarthLink's 24/7, toll-free phone help.