Here are four major drawbacks of using a free host to serve your online business.

Limited support. Your free host's primary source of income is from advertisers, which is where its loyalty lies -- not with you, the customer.

In addition, free hosts acquire lots of customers because they need a large user base to support their advertising sales.

This means you get less support than you would from a host generating revenue primarily from customer accounts. Whatever support services a free host offers will probably be thinly spread.

Unreliable software and servers. Because your site shares connection to the Internet backbone with the large number of sites hosted on the same server -- a practice known as "shared hosting" -- your site's load time might be slowed.

Top-quality servers are not a high priority and, because support services are spread thin, uptime and connection speeds might be unreliable.

Fishhooks in the terms. Free hosts could limit server use in ways that might present problems for your business. In some cases, such as lack of activity, your account might be terminated unexpectedly.

You have few rights here. Again, a free host's primary loyalty lies with advertisers. Be sure to study the host's service terms closely.

Usage limitations. Most free hosts require the display of banner ads on each page of your site -- or worse, litter your site with pop-up ads.

You'll have little control over what ad is placed and the content of the banner ad might clash with your business image. Further, if you plan to obtain advertising funds of your own, this is obviously a problem.

Free hosts often rule out certain types of trading, such as reselling Web space or hosting a banner exchange. A host's terms of service will outline what you can do.

If you're running a mission-critical site, free hosts are not your best option.

If you're simply testing the waters or experimenting with a site to see whether your business idea works, then by all means, try a free host. But keep your eyes open and know the terms.

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