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Linux vs. Windows Web Hosting: How to Choose the Right Server OS

The first step in designing an effective, compelling company website is to choose a web host. While most Internet service providers (ISPs) offer enough space for a personal blog or web page, incorporating high-quality multimedia or an e-commerce store requires much more storage, along with dedicated support. But picking the right web-host provider isn't the only critical decision companies need to make — they also need to choose between the “Big Two” web platforms: Windows and Linux.

What's the Big Difference?

Think of Linux or Windows web hosting as the underpinnings of your website; while both offer the same basic function, their forms differ significantly. Consider the foundation of a home as an analogy: In the southern United States, concrete slabs are the preferred method, while in northern climates, a basement or crawl space or is common. Using a slab, concrete supports the weight of a home; using a basement, wood takes most of the load. Both are effective and achieve the same result, but with different methods.

The same is true with Linux and Windows. Here, the biggest difference is the core operating system (OS). Linux uses some form of the Linux kernel, which is typically free. Windows, meanwhile, comes with a licensing fee. You'll find a host of open-source Linux applications available on the web; Windows hosting has fewer apps to choose from, but all come from licensed providers.

There are also many minor differences — for example, all Linux files are case sensitive, but Windows files are not. This means “Server.exe” and “server.exe” are different files in a Linux deployment, but they are the same for Windows users. In addition, Linux uses control panels like cPanel or WHM, while Windows uses Plesk.

How to Pick and Choose

If both Windows and Linux web-hosting platforms offer the same results, does it really matter which platform a company chooses? In certain circumstances, absolutely.

Windows deployments are ideal if your website runs Windows-specific solutions, such as ASP, .NET, Microsoft Access or Microsoft SQL, since these technologies will not work with Linux. If you prefer to use PHP, Perl or MySQL, then Linux is the simpler choice. It's also worth mentioning that a company's current operating system has no bearing on the functionality of their web host. Running Windows on local server stacks does not impede a Linux deployment, and relying on Linux for day-to-day tasks won't interfere with Windows; hosting platforms are entirely web-facing.

The Linux-Windows Market Forces

Linux continues to be the go-to choice for web developers, while Windows is often used to serve specific needs. Both are popular options in the emerging cloud market, which is similar to the concept of dedicated hosting but with scalable resources billed on a per-use basis.

Windows, for example, is gearing up to launch its cloud-based Azure Pack technology and has enlisted several global providers to beta test the solution before its January 2014 launch. Linux, meanwhile, is the OS of choice for Google's new Compute Engine, according to a recent ZDNet article.

Regardless of which option a company chooses, it's not always smooth sailing. Consider Obamacare and its healthcare.gov website: The site uses a Linux deployment and an Apache server, but the server wasn't optimized properly, causing it to stall and crash. It's important to note, therefore, that a solid Linux or Windows deployment alone doesn't guarantee success; just as crucial is 24/7 web-hosting support in the event of server downtime, website lag or outright failure.

Bottom line? Linux has been around longer and has a broader array of third-party solutions to choose from, but Windows deployments can streamline development and database deployment, thanks to vetted, licensed tools.

[image: Purestock/ThinkStockPhotos]

ABOUT THIS CONTRIBUTOR
Freelance writer
Douglas Bonderud is a technology expert with a deep understanding of web hosting, cloud computing and data security.
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