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Linux vs. Windows: a comparison of the best web-hosting solutions

Those seeking to privately operate a web server or rent one as a part of a web-hosting package through a provider are often confronted with a seemingly age-old question: Linux or Windows? These two operating systems have dominated the web-hosting market for years and compete today for digital hegemony, with Linux maintaining a noticeable lead. Due to the minimal differences between the two systems in terms of functions and applications, making a decision sometimes proves to be no easy feat. Taking a closer look at Windows and Linux is a task worth its while and allows users to more clearly understand the different advantages of both systems.  Most of the time, such comparisons come down to a question of compatibility for applications.

Comparing Linux and Windows as web-hosting operating systems

Available in a freeware form since 1992, the modularly structured operating system, Linux, is, in many ways, considered to be the best option for web servers. With Linux, costs only arise when distributions with pay-based support options are in use. Combined with its reliability, stability, and efficiency, Linux has proven to be one of the most sophisticated options for both web and mail server needs.

Linux is an especially favorable choice for those considering to use PHP, Perl, Python, Ruby, or MySQL. While Windows solutions are often subject to charges, Linux offers numerous open source applications for hosting, including: ready-to-use homepage solutions, applications (e.g. blogs), content management systems, and discussion forums.

With the launch of Windows Server in 1993, Microsoft has long since been a well-established player in the market for server operating systems. Although not free of charge, like Linux, Microsoft provides both support and updates for its services during the agreed-upon period of use. One particularly strong advantage Windows has over Linux is its high performance web application framework, ASP.NET, whose most current version is also compatible with Linux. The applications SharePoint and Exchange, which aid in communication and make working on a project much easier, are still exclusive to Microsoft. While open source versions for Linux are available, these tend to be less popular in most business environments. The following table lays out characteristics of both operating systems according to web-hosting features.

  Windows web hosting Linux web hosting
software type proprietary Open Source
web server Microsoft IIS Apache, Nginx
script languages VBScript, ASP.NET Perl, PHP, Python, Ruby
databases MSSQL, Microsoft Access MySQL, MariaDB
administrative software Plesk cPanel, Plesk, Confixx
miscellaneous Exchange, .NET-Applications, SharePoint WordPress, Joomla etc.

The deciding factor: Linux or Windows?

There is no getting around the dilemma of deciding which operating system to use when configuring your service module, and many users make such decisions for the wrong reasons. One common pitfall is assuming that the server system and the platform the computer runs on need to be identical. With the help of management tools, like Plesk, administrators are able to remotely operate servers, thereby making the type of operating system your computer runs on irrelevant. Should costs dominate the calculus of your decision making, then opting for the primarily open source software, Linux, is probably your best bet. Abiding by this rule sometimes proves to be a fallacy, however: depending on distribution, extra costs can arise for the generally expensive support and technical competence. An additional caveat to be noted:

Window’s more complicated license model does constitute a small disadvantage.

In the end, no victor can be declared in the duel between Linux and Microsoft. Both operating systems can be used as two different means to various ends. While Windows offers more complex functions for structuring work and communication flows, Linux scores with its status of being the preferred option for web applications, such as content management systems.

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Operating Systems Windows Linux