So you’re finally ready to publish your finished website and you’re searching through the myriad of web hosting plans and providers. You may have noticed that most hosting companies use Linux or Unix operating systems on their web servers. Microsoft Windows is less commonly offered as a choice. So what’s the difference?
Most people are familiar with Microsoft Windows having used it at home, work, or at school. It is very easy to use for novices and it doesn’t require command-line knowledge. In Windows Home and advanced Server editions, you can simply point and click your way to a different folder using your mouse. Unix and Linux are open-source – meaning that the operating system is free and the source code is well documented and easily distributed. There are no major differences between Unix and Linux. Unix is much older and cannot run on x86-based personal computers (like the one you’re using now). In contrast, Linux can run on both high-powered servers and x86-based computers.
Linux is available in many flavors, though most hosting companies use Red Hat Linux, or Mandrake Linux, which are proven workhorses able to handle hundreds of websites and millions of hits per day. FreeBSD and OpenBSD are versions of Unix which are also available. While ease-of-use is very important for a home or work computer, it is generally not a big issue when working with a web server. After all, you are doing most of your website design offline on your own computer. Unless you have very advanced programming or operating system-specific modules, you will not notice the difference between Windows and Unix servers.
Both Linux/Unix and Windows can handle high traffic websites and add-ons such as chat rooms, email and website statistics with ease. The biggest differences are price and software compatibility. Because Windows must be purchased and licenses renewed continuously, Windows hosting plans are usually more expensive than Unix-based plans. Also Unix-based plans often come with free email, databases (MySQL), statistic, and community programs. While Windows plans come with Microsoft software (MS SQL, for example) that must be purchased by the hosting company.
Both Linux and Windows platforms can run popular programming languages such as php, perl, or java. If your website uses active server pages, then it will be less risky hosting it on a Windows server. Well it still may function on a Unix server, there may be small glitches that are not immediately apparent. Similarly, if you are using with Microsoft SQL databases, these databases will be supported by most Windows plans. However, Linux or Unix plans often include MySQL which would require that your databases be converted to this format in order to function properly. If you are currently using any Microsoft programming (especially active server pages) or third-party applications (MS SQL 2000), you may want to play it safe and choose a Windows hosting plan.
From the average web designer’s standpoint, there isn’t much difference between hosting on Linux/Unix or Windows web servers. However, before signing up for a hosting plan, ensure that all facets of your site’s design, programming, databases and the like will work with that plan. If you are unsure, ask the company’s sales or technical staff before you commit.