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UNIX/ Linux web hosting versus Windows web hosting

Decisions decisions decisions; you are just starting off, and want to decide on whether you wish to host on a Windows platform or a UNIX/ Linux platform.  Aggghhh I hear you yell, what’s the difference?

Well, ah the perennial question, Windows or Linux? So first things first, which is the more popular?  Well that’s easy, more companies host on a UNIX Platform (that’s Linux, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, CentOS, Ubuntu, etc. etc. etc.) then on a Windows platforms (Windows 2008, Windows 2003, Windows NT etc. etc. etc.).  Let’s get one thing straight though, this has no reflection or baring on the operating system you are running at the office or at home, this is simply the operating system of the machine where you are hosting your site on.

Who use’s which for what?
Both platforms can run the more popular programming languages of PHP, perl or JAVA and MySQL, but certain items. Also, thanks to SAMBA at there is an interface that allows one to utilise most of the Windows features until Window NT 4, unfortunately certain items such as active server directories are not totally compatible and if your site does use it, you may encounter small glitches from time to time – it would be best to host on Windows if that were the case.

How about other Windows applications, products or packages?
Well, if you are using any windows applications such as MS SQL (Microsoft SQL) than you would definitely need to host on a windows platform or at the very least convert your database over to MySQL. Also if you are using a scripting language, or .NET, or classic ASP – windows languages – then you would need to host on a windows platform.

OK, which platform performs better then?
Well, regarding the performance, you will here both arguments. In essence under normal load conditions there isn’t a difference. Now your probably thinking your not interested in normal conditions, its under stress where things stand out!  Well again, I think that there isn’t much of a difference, and it might depend on whether your talking to an open source UNIX guy or a Windows person!  My thoughts (and I hope I haven’t shown my colours) is that UNIX is the higher performance platform; a case of six and two threes 😉

OK, how about stability; Is UNIX/ Linux or Windows more stable?
Here am afraid it’s a little more clear cut, Linux/ UNIX is the more stable platform.  Linux platforms have been know to run for years without requiring a reboot, and by and large UNIX machines seldom require a reboot, whereas Windows platforms seem to do so from time to time. Also by extension servers running on UNIX/ Linux do enjoy extremely high uptime and reliability/ availability.

Saying all that, it is worth noting thought that windows platforms do have very high reliability – slightly less than UNIX but are still able to cope with modern websites and for most people should not be a factor.

Alright, got the stability and performance, how about scalability?
Well, here is where Windows does have a clear advantage over UNIX/ Linux.  Whilst both platforms can adapt to your needs as you grow, it is the Windows platforms that are more compatible with UNIX based programming features like PHP and MySQL, whereas UNIX/ Linux platforms are not always 100% compatible and are not capable of coping with Microsoft technologies like VB and .NET.

Oh OK, are there any other compatibility issues between the two platforms?
OK, this is the criteria that I would use for deciding which platform to use.  If you are a fan of Microsoft applications and products such as .NET, MS SQL and ASP scripts then Windows is the platform for you.  Also, if you envisage that at a future date you might want to use Microsoft components within your site then either initially host on Windows, or transfer over when you start requiring it (depending on your penchant for hassle ;-)).  The reverse is not a problem, programs designed to be hosted on UNIX and Linux platforms are easily hosted on Windows.

So, if you have a preference for Microsoft products, or may be thinking of incorporating Windows applications at a future date, then Windows is the platform for you.  If however you are comfortable with open source platforms, and have no desire to utilise Microsoft applications, then you should be hosting your site on a UNIX platform.

OK, now the most important, which is the cheaper platform?
Well, OK to be frank this is the biggest and most important difference between the two platforms.  At the end of the day, Windows licenses need to be continuously renewed and paid for, whilst UNIX/ Linux are open source and therefore free.  Also the UNIX platforms also come with free programs (well it is open source isn’t it!) such as MySQL, stats packages, and many other programs.  Microsoft’s product’s be it MS SQL or Exchange are not free, and require a subscription for.

OK, am a bit confused, in a nut shell what are you saying?
Lol, well to sum up UNIX platforms tend to be more stable, faster and cheaper than the Windows platform, but really, those differences are not the only determinant.  It really depends on what you are planning on doing and if you like Microsoft products, and need/ want to use MS SQL for the increased reliability and stability, or prefer Exchange, or just like the features offered by the .NET framework, then Windows is probably the platform for you.  If however those features are not of interest to you, then I would suggest UNIX platforms.

So in essence from the average web designer’s perspective, there isn’t much of a difference between hosting on UNIX/ Linux or Windows web servers.  So, what you should do is before signing up to a hosting plan is to check all the facets of your web site, from the design, the programming language, the database, etc. etc. and see what works best for you.  If you are unsure, then it might be worth shooting an email to the company’s techie team and get them to answer some of your nigglie questions before you commit.


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