October 30, 2008
For someone who is fairly new to web hosting, choosing the platform you are going to use for your server can be a difficult and even mind-boggling decision. Although there are several obscure choices still available, the most widely used Operating Systems (OSs) are the enterprise, or server, versions of Linux and Windows.
There seems to be a limitless source of information regarding hosting, but it seems that the waters have been muddied by many authors’ self-important personal opinions. This has resulted in some of the issues becoming rather unclear to intermediate users. Some technology bloggers have put quite a few hours, even years, into research on the subject, only to conclude that it really does not matter what server you decide to use. They claim that you should just make sure to choose a really good web host, instead of worrying about the type of server software they are running.
Are they right? Does it matter what kind of server hosts your site? Why? What is the difference between the two OSs, anyway?
Microsoft manufactures and owns the rights to the entire Windows OS, from the recently retired XP to various flavors of Vista. Linux, on the other hand, is “open source” software and is usually free. What that means is that it can be more costly to install and run a Windows server, but this really would not affect you unless you are setting up the server personally – and if your eyes are glued to this article then it’s a safe assumption that you are not doing so.
What this article will do for you is give you the rundown on how to make the right decision about the web-hosting server you choose. The costs inherent in running a server do not always affect the price of the hosting package as you might suspect. The fact that a single Windows server would be more costly to set up and run doesn’t apply to a web-hosting firm that has installed several dozen or more. Getting the Window hosting package is usually a bit more expensive than the Linux hosting package, but not so much that you should disqualify it on price alone.
Make no assumptions
Individuals often assume that just because their PC operates on Windows, they should purchase a Windows hosting package. Not necessarily. Gaining access to your web account will usually be done through FTP or a control panel, and all servers support these methods. The most important difference in administrative site access is that some FTP commands are a bit different in Linux than in Windows and, of course, the FTP programs will usually be created for only one or the other.
Think about how you intend to put the server to use. Make your decision based on those facts. The web features that will run just fine on both platforms include PHP and the e-mail protocols, IMAP and POP. On the other hand, using ASP, Frontpage, the .Net environment, Access, Windows Streaming Media or other Microsoft technologies will likely require a Windows host. Linux offers only limited support, or none at all, when it comes to these technologies, meaning your “workaround cost” will be quite high and may lack the features you need.
Stability and growth
Different server platforms’ reliability and stability records have been raised in many discussions, some rather contentious. The focus of many anti-MS rants has been that Windows is not a secure environment and is only popular because it is the OS for the majority of home-based PCs. As the most commonly used system, Windows has flaws and people tend to spend a lot of time looking for them, as well as exploiting them for harm.
However, Linux may just be the most common server type out there and, surprisingly, the success rate for hackers has been higher than expected, although not as high as for Windows. After all is said and done, the platforms and their security boil down to systems administration and server company management. If security is the main focus for you, then be sure to take the time to investigate the company that is hosting your site. Make sure that they have a reputation that is corroborated by other companies, not just their own marketing materials. This way you will have fewer worries about the server you are using.
Too close to call?
When it comes to the performance of the two servers, there is not a huge difference. Linux has been known to perform faster than Windows on some “cookie cutter” hosts that install Windows in its default, “all in one” package. Linux distributors, using an open-source application with more flexibility, can implement “extensible” packages with greater customizability. In normal situations, the performance of the two is comparable, but if system functionality is most important to you, this may have an impact on your final decision. Which direction that will send you depends on what you wish to compare, as the OSs do have some different strengths and weaknesses.
It is arguably a better use of your time to look for a good host rather than a good server model or OS. Linux and Windows developers are always working on ways to improve both systems. At this point they seem to be roughly equivalent when it comes to the security, features and reliability expected by the average home and small business user. This is not likely to change for some time. You must base your decision on the factors most important to you and your business, and in this neck-and-neck horse race, a clear winner is impossible to call. Eventually you will just have to saddle up with one or the other, and hit the track.
About The Author
Amy Armitage is the head of Business Development for Lunarpages. Lunarpages provides quality web hosting from their US-based hosting facility. They offer a wide-range of services from Linux Virtual Private Servers and managed solutions to shared and reseller hosting plans.