One of the most important choices you are faced with when selecting a web host is your server's operating system. Just like your laptop or desktop computer, which probably runs some variant of Microsoft Windows or the Mac OS, your web server's operating system determines its capabilities and its overall "character." A computer's levels of security, stability, and flexibility are largely a result of its operating system. The OS also determines what software programs you can and can't run. Naturally, it makes sense to thoroughly research your options before coming to a decision. If, for instance, you only need a web host to serve up a simple, mostly static website, then the OS doesn't really matter that much, they will all do the job equally well. It becomes more of an issue, though, when you're faced with more complicated or demanding hosting requirements. Perhaps you are developing an e-commerce site for your small business or maybe you are working to create an interactive, data-driven web app. If so, it will pay off to ensure you choose the ideal web hosting OS for your particular situation.
While there are many, many different operating systems out there, the two that power the vast majority of the world's web servers are Linux and Microsoft Windows Server. Right now, Linux has a bit of an edge in popularity, but Windows Server has been consistently gaining ground over the last few years. Both operating systems have their strengths and weaknesses. Linux, for those not familiar with it, is an open source, "free" OS. This means that anyone can view and edit its source code and that it can be distributed without cost. This philosophy has helped to make Linux secure, easy to customize, and well supported by a worldwide network of users and developers. Windows, on the other hand, takes the opposite approach. Microsoft's OS is closed source and the company charges a licensing fee for every machine it is installed on. Window's programmers achieve stability and security by maintaining tight, exclusive control over their code, the opposite of the Linux method. In the real world, both approaches have proven to be effective in their own ways.
What advantages does Win hosting offer over the competition?
Win hosting, a shorthand way of saying "Windows-based hosting," is typically a few dollars more expensive per month than Linux hosting. At least in some cases, though, the added cost is definitely worth it. Windows Server makes up for its two main weakness compared to Linux - higher initial cost and reduced flexibility - by offering a number of proprietary tools and technologies that you can't get with any other OS.
Chief among these is Microsoft's .Net framework. An alternative to Java and its virtual machine, it allows for developers to create web-based applications in a number of different programming languages. These programs can then run on any machine that has the .Net framework installed. The only catch is that you need Windows to run .Net. So, if you have or are interesting in creating .Net-based software, a win hosting account is a necessity.
How do I know if Win hosting is right for me?
If you or your developers use any of the following technologies, then you should definitely go with Win hosting, rather than Linux:
- the Microsoft .Net "virtual machine" framework
- any of Microsoft's web design or development tools, including FrontPage, Expression Web, and MS Visual Web Developer
- extensions for Microsoft's venerable Office applications, such as Word, Excel, Access, and PowerPoint
Windows Server is also a good choice for those individuals who value solid, dependable support. While Linux has a huge network of message boards and user groups that can provide assistance, as well as a number of companies that now offer optional paid support packages, Windows brings with it the backing of one of the world's largest and most successful software makers. While opinions vary regarding the quality of Microsoft's support department, many people value the fact they always have someone readily available when things go wrong.