Product Review: APlusBill
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Published: 06 Aug 2008
Abstract
Billing is a critical factor for web hosting providers, ISPs, Consultants, and Independent Software Professionals. Normally, self hosted billing systems are used by web hosting providers. The providers should automate the billing system during the initial phase itself. Otherwise, they will find it difficult to manage the growing number of customers as time progresses. In this review, Anand put to test a PHP based billing application and demonstrates its working and usefulness. He also suggests improvements which he prefers to see in the next version of the product.
by Anand Narayanaswamy
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Introduction

SoftwarePlusWeb.com has developed a billing system named APlusBill for web hosting providers. Even though it is not very popular, I decided to test drive it out of interest. The product is PHP/MySQL based and, therefore, it is preferable to have access to a shared account under Linux. It can also be installed under Windows 2003 Servers.

Installation

I simply followed the instructions provided in the documentation to install the product. It involves modification of some of the items in the configuration file and triggering the automated installer. The readme file also includes the required information of the steps to be followed after the installation. I noticed that the installation process is a bit complicated and would suggest the vendor create a wizard kind of installer so that beginners can easily setup the product without modifying any parameters in the configuration file. In order to get started you should enter the administrator password and registration key which can be located from the download area.

Working

As soon as you login as an administrator, a startup page will be displayed which lists the total number of accounts, staffs and subscriptions.

Figure 1

 

As you can see from the above screenshot the product separately provides the breakup of earnings in four different cycles. Administrators can create and manage clients by selecting the different tabs located on the top of the administrator page. The process involves creating a list of products and setting up the client accounts. The documentation provides the required instructions to be followed in a step-by-step manner, which I hope will help administrators in getting started with the system.

The product enables you to create bulk mails and knowledge base articles in FAQ format. The bulk mail feature will be very useful if you want to inform your clients about any scheduled maintenance, change in policies or to announce any special offers. I found a lot of options and hope that it will only take 2 or 3 days to master each one of them. Moreover, administrators should setup CRON jobs or Scheduled Tasks in Windows by following the directions given on the website of the vendor. Otherwise, the system will not generate recurring billing invoices. It would be helpful if the vendor could provide detailed documentation for each setting along with the product in PDF format.

The product includes a powerful client management system. Your clients should first create an account by accessing the order page. As soon as the required information is submitted, the system will automatically mail the password to the relevant client email address. Clients can then login to their account page by selecting the My Account button and entering their username and password. If the credentials are correct they can place an order for a product or service and the system will notify both client and administrator with the required information.

The order placement system has been divided into two categories named Subscription and Non Subscription, as shown in Figure 2. Recurring orders like hosting, renewal of product licenses and fees for listing your site in a directory can be placed under the first category. If you would like to sell a one time product, such as a product license, then you can include them under Non Subscription category. Once the order is confirmed then you can pay for the service by clicking the appropriate link displayed on the Order Confirmation page.

Figure 2

The product supports a wide range of payment gateways such as PayPal, Authorize.net, Nochex, World Pay, 2checkout and Check. If you do not want to bill clients using any one of the above internet payment gateway, you should enter the required instructions for fulfilling the custom offline payment inside the relevant PHP file and the system will display them during checkout. Although the above gateways cater to the needs of all webmasters, I hope the vendor will add support for more payment gateways in the future releases of the product. 

The product also includes an integrated helpdesk system with which clients can submit sales, support and billing related queries by setting the priority level. Even though the entire system does not look attractive like other competing products, it fulfills the basic job of billing and supports tasks very effectively. The product can be easily customized by modifying the header and footer files and by incorporating some modifications to the style sheet. It can also be integrated into your HTML template. The product will shine better if it comes with excellent designs.

Suggestions

I would prefer to see some of the new features in the next version of the product. It includes implementation of customized URL's for each product as it enables clients to signup directly using the relevant web address, implementation of coupon code system to facilitate customers to purchase products at discounted prices, ability to modify mail templates directly from the administrator area, implementation of designs using various skins, a separate section for posting public news and announcements, implementation of downloads section, ability to check the availability of domains, display of server status and the ability to remove the copyright instruction from the footer. As I mentioned above, the vendor has built the product for the purpose of hosters. Therefore, the inclusion of the above mentioned features will be a big boost for the product.

I noticed few spelling errors in the documentation file and hope that it will be corrected in the next release of the product. I feel the pricing of the product is very affordable when compared to other similar products. Moreover, extra licenses can also be purchased for discounted prices. The vendor provides excellent support through the help desk and all queries are replied within one day.

Conclusion

I noticed that the learning curve for the product is a little less when compared to other products and I would recommend APlusBill if you are on the look out for a cheap billing solution for your web hosting business.

About the Product

Title

APlusBill

Price

US $59

Related URL

http://www.aplusbill.com

Rating

****

 

About the Reviewer

Anand Narayanaswamy (Microsoft MVP and Chief Technical Editor, ASPAlliance.com) is the author of Community Server Quickly



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