Website Hosting - Unix vs Windows-Based Hosting
Matt Williams - 20th, April 2010
Which Is Better?
An operating system functions largely out of sight, or at least is supposed to. It doesn't matter to non-geeks how
a file gets stored, or how memory is used, or how simultaneous processes share the limited resources available on a
computer. These are among the basic functions of any operating system.
Yet, you can find very passionate supporters - who offer very detailed lists of pros and cons - for every operating
system. Why? Because, though the low-level functions of an operating system do their work out of sight, there are
many other features that rise to visibility. Sometimes, they do so when they're not supposed to.
Weighing the pros and cons objectively could consume a book. But to select a web host operating system, a
manageable level of considerations apply. They can be weighed even by those who don't know a processor queue from a
For most web site owners, administering the site/server is just overhead. It's not something they take pleasure in
doing and they have plenty of other things to worry about. Many wouldn't know how and have no interest in learning
(rightly so, given their priorities). Consequently, ease of administration is paramount for such people.
Whether a Unix-based site (usually Linux these days) is easier to administer than Windows depends on your current
skill set and the type of tools and level of access the web hosting company provides. But in general Linux is more
difficult to install and maintain than Windows and the learning curve is steeper.
FTP and Control Panels
Often, you don't have to care. For many, the operating system is fairly transparent. FTP file transfers to get a
new web page up to a Windows server are very much like they are to a Linux-based site. The user/administrator
simply doesn't see what's behind the curtain.
Many companies provide other utilities that completely mask any awareness of the operating system underneath. When
that's the case, the web site owner has no reason to care, until or unless they need or want to go 'inside the
Performance issues can be relevant in selecting which operating system host type to choose. But for the most part,
that aspect is outside the web site owner's control. Overall performance can be good or bad on either system,
depending on many factors that the publisher will rarely see. The issue is a wash, as far as tipping the scales is
What is more likely to be seen by a web site owner, at some point in their (and their site's) development is the
database product that can be used to store information.
Microsoft SQL Server is relatively simple to use, yet extremely powerful and can deliver great performance. But it
doesn't run on Linux. At least, not without special software to emulate Windows, which usually kills performance.
On the other hand, with a bit of time invested, MySQL isn't significantly more difficult to learn than MS SQL
Server and there are many free installations. Cost may well outweigh other considerations for most on this
Last, but not least, there are differences in programming languages that can be (or at least typically are) used on
Windows vs Unix. If you have programmers who are skilled in Visual Basic, ASP and other Microsoft technologies,
then a Windows-based host will be your preferred choice. For Perl and PHP programmers, Linux is the more common
platform of choice.
No single factor can push you to one versus the other operating system. And, in the long run, it isn't the primary
consideration, unless you just enjoy playing with operating systems.
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