After trying out a number of free control panels and checking through all of the reviews, Cpanel is still hands down the better control panel to use. Problem of course is its huge license fee of 200 USD pa. Doesn’t make sense either to get such an expensive control panel for a free VPS.
All of the free control panels come with at least a few bugs and inconsistencies, some more than others. My preference is VestaCP as it is the lightest of all of the panels I’ve tried so far and ideal for beginner VPSs with only 512 MB RAM. The speed is due to a very fast and light Nginx combo with the best in file management of Apache.
My first introduction to VestaCP was in December 2014 when I received my first VPS. During December 2014 when I first tried it out, VestaCP was full of bugs, so I chose WEBUZO Premium version instead, which at 25 USD pa is affordable and well worth the investment for its cpanel feel and 316 Softaculous scripts. Negatives with WEBUZO are it is a single-user control panel as well as it uses much more resources than VestaCP. It also came with a few bugs I had to solve with repeated reinstallations.
During 2016 I found a VestaCP had sorted out a number of its bugs and had developed an enormous documentation source at its Website and Forum. So I let go of WEBUZO and have been using VestaCP ever since.
Here are the free control panels I tried out in December 2014: Vesta Panel, Kloxo MR, ZPanel, Sentora, or WEBMIN. I selected these for trying out because they stood out in reviews (particularly on support and security), and had some solid documentation to work with. They appear below in order of most-liked:
1. Vesta Panel stood out head and shoulders above all of the free control panels. Mostly because of its no-frills control panel with ability to create user accounts and ease to manage. VestaCP is super light and super fast and one can easily use it on a 512 MB RAM VPS. Catch is you will need to fork out 80$ per six months to get support. However, over the years the Admin of the VestaCP Forum have managed to accumulate a wealth of documentation that provides a source of free support. It’s definitely worth trying it out as it comes with rave reviews.
2. Kloxo MR I was very excited about. Thought it was better and more user-friendly than Vesta Panel, including all of the Vesta Panel features, until I started to check reviews and discovered that it came with some major security concerns. Mostly because of lack of support after the owner passed away.
3. ZPanel used to be popular at one time as a cPanel look alike free alternative. However it seems to be a heavy user of resources, which is not that great for a VPS. Another negative is that it was given to a commercial Website host, Hostwinds, and in the process the majority of the team decided to split off and start a new open-source control panel called Sentora. This means that ZPanel is no longer legit to use or supported as a free standing control panel. Some of the original developers then went on to create Sentora, but that didn’t quite turn into what they hoped for. Reviews particularly from a security angle are bad and the message I get is to stay away from it.
4. WEBMIN for Linux Servers. Is probably one of the better control panels – more functional than VestaCP for sure, but intended for your super geek who has plenty of technical server knowledge and need for plenty of logs. Features are more geared towards the technical management of the server, although one can create user accounts and basically do everything one can with any other control panel. Does look a bit archaic and maybe more suitable for large dedicated servers than a basic VPS with lower specifications. When I tried it out, it did drag enough to be distracting. It requires much more resources and one can feel it.
5. WEBUZO (free version). Although I’m completely happy with the Premium Version, I wouldn’t recommend the free version of WEBUZO. Not so much because of lack of scripts, but it just feels clumsy to navigate. The limited version of WEBUZO has obviously been designed to attract people to its premium version. The cost of 25 USD license (compared with cPanel’s 200 USD) is affordable and well worth the subscription. There is also a free trial version available for those who are interested to buy a license but would like to try it out first.