When it comes to deciding which operating system to use for web hosting, there are two main contenders: Linux and Windows. While Linux is traditionally the OS of choice for those well-versed in the business of web hosting, many newcomers are naturally drawn towards Windows by the prestige of the brand name and their familiarity with Microsoft products.
The debate about whether Windows or Linux is superior has raged for years, and it will probably never go away. That's because both operating systems have a distinct set of advantages, which means that they can fulfill certain purposes better than the other. If you're looking for us to say something conclusive like 'this OS is clearly the winner', or 'this OS makes the other one look like garbage', then you're going to be disappointed.
Each OS has plenty of benefits, and deciding which one to use will depend on your web hosting intentions. While we can't tell you that one is definitively the best, we can tell you all that you need to know about Linux or Windows to inform your choice about which operating system will best meet your needs.
The Key Information About Linux Hosting
Before we delve deeper into the practical benefits of Linux web hosting, let's start with arguably its biggest selling point: Linux is a free open source system. This allows web hosting providers to utilize the benefits of Linux without worrying about licensing costs. That freedom of use means that those web hosting providers relying on Linux will usually offer much lower costs for their services compared to Windows equivalents.
If you're operating within strict budget constraints, Linux web hosting would appear to have the edge. While Linux is more accessible on a financial level, it is perhaps less accessible on a technical level. Performing essential functions on Linux must be done via the command line, a task which requires plenty of specialist knowledge if the user doesn't want to upset their system.
You can hire a Linux administrator to integrate software on your behalf, although this negates the bargain of the initial web hosting costs, or install a graphical user interface (GUI), which can diminish the speed of Linux. However, if you can master Linux then you'll have full access to an extremely powerful and flexible OS, plus you'll be able to modify servers and software much easier than on Windows.
Linux can support pretty much any type of website that you can imagine, whether you're setting up a simplistic personal blog or a complex e-commerce site. If you're looking to use applications such as WordPress, Python, or Perl, then Linux will be your best bet, while this OS is also particularly adept at running PHP and MySQL as a combination. Windows can handle PHP and MySQL as well, but Linux was devised with these two formats in mind, so it is more suited to running both at once.
The Key Information About Windows Hosting
One of Linux's biggest advantages is its cost, so you might be able to tell where this is going. Windows web hosting packages will generally be more expensive than their Linux counterparts, as the Windows OS is not open source and is therefore subject to licensing fees. Many consider the price of a Windows OS worth paying in order to access a familiar brand, plus you might find that the price of Windows web hosting comes with a more comprehensive support system to help you get up and running.
If you asked a group of 100 people to name an OS, you wouldn't be surprised if 95 of them came back with Windows as their first answer. Because Windows is commonly adopted by businesses, it might make sense to opt for Windows servers in order to be more compatible with Microsoft products. One of the biggest advantages of a Windows-based server package is its accessibility; the intuitive and powerful GUI on its Remote Desktop system allows even rookie admins to confidently perform tasks.
Those tasks would be virtually impossible for a total beginner on a Linux OS, so it is clear that Windows has the edge when it comes to ease of use. However, a confident programmer may find that the Windows command line is less flexible and responsive than the Linux equivalent, while Linux offers a much smoother process when hosting on an application like WordPress.
There are some situations where the decision is taken out of your hands and you'll have to choose Windows web hosting. If you plan on working with ASP.NET, MS-SQL, or .NET Core, then you'll require a Windows server. ASP.NET is a powerful scripting framework, so being forced to choose Windows is no bad thing in this case. ASP.NET's high performance and low development times, plus its server-side nature, has many people turning to the trusted combination of this framework and a Windows OS to meet their needs.
Some Things in Common
Windows hosting and Linux hosting is similar in a number of ways. Both can accommodate PHP and MySQL, although, as mentioned above, Linux is more proficient at running both in conjunction. Managing hosting user accounts for either OS is straightforward, as you access your account on a web browser such as Safari or Chrome. You can even manage your Windows hosting account on a Mac or your Linux hosting account on a Windows laptop, so there's plenty of flexibility in that regard for both OS.
Each OS is also generally trustworthy; that's why these two have become the most popular choices for web hosting. While it's always important to take independent security measures, Windows and Linux both deliver well in terms of protection and reliability. Microsoft has made significant progress with the security of its OS in recent years, thanks to the Windows Server 2016 additions of Credential Guard and shielded virtual machines, while Linux runs on few resources and is therefore able to operate quickly and safely.
There's not a massive difference between using Windows or Linux for web hosting, and you'll have an excellent server solution whichever one you pick. Windows might seem less intimidating for beginners, given its effective GUI and its ability to run ASP.NET, plus it may have more value in a business context. Linux may be more attractive for those confident with command lines and server modifications, who also wish to reduce their expenditure.