The vast majority of hosting services being offered today are based either on Windows or Linux operating systems. There are few other Unix variants that hosting companies use, but most of the features that are offered to the customer are so similar that they can be considered to be the same.
Is Windows hosting better than Linux hosting?
The decision to choose one web hosting system over another is usually determined by what type of scripting languages you need.
Windows & Linux similarities
When comparing Windows and Linux, there are many rumors you may have heard about why one is better than the other. In reality, there are several things that are virtually the same whether you choose Windows hosting or Linux hosting:
Performance. On both platforms, the speed and efficiency are comparable when an experienced administrator manages them.
Stability. While Windows web hosting systems were notoriously unstable in the past, the stability between a Windows server and a Linux server today is negligible.
Static pages. Both Windows and Linux platforms can host static HTML files almost identically.
Ease of use. Most interaction with your web hosting system will be through FTP or a server’s control panel. So even if Windows provides a nice GUI interface, you are not likely to use it anyway.
Security. Though the topic could be argued by operating system purists, today, both web hosting platforms are comparably secure.
Web server system
Features that will be available for you are not solely decided by the operating system. Therefore you have to think about the web server system that is commonly deployed on Windows and Linux. For example, on Linux systems, the web server offered is almost always the Apache server.
On Windows, it is the Internet Information Server (IIS). Apache is also available for Windows systems but is rarely used by hosting companies using the Windows platform. Again, there are other web servers in use, but the great majority of hosting companies use one of these two.
CGI – shell scripts and PERL
The Common Gateway Interface (CGI) provides a means to connect or link from a web page to a program written in a scripting language that runs on the server.
Some people refer to a CGI Script when what they actually mean is a shell script accessed via the CGI. Shell scripts are files containing a series of commands to be executed by the Unix shell. They are, therefore, a feature of a Unix or Linux system.
Other types of scripts accessed via the CGI include PERL scripts. PERL is readily available for either Linux or Windows. It is included by default in almost every Linux distribution and is an add-on to Windows. As a very powerful and popular scripting language, it is available on most hosting service systems.
Server-side scripting – PHP, ASP, ASP.NET
Easy to learn, but a very powerful scripting language has gained a great deal of popularity. It is readily available for both Linux and Windows systems but is still more commonly deployed on Linux.
Most hosting companies these days will have made PHP available on their systems no matter which platform they offer. However, it is still something you will want to check if you have any plans to use it.
Available for Windows, ASP provides access to Visual Basics and VB Scripting language. Although ASP is ported to Linux, it is very rare to see it offered by a hosting company running Linux servers.
I have not personally tested the capabilities of the Linux ASP implementations, so I can not advise you how compatible they may be.
It is an open-source server-side web application framework for Windows, designed for web development to produce dynamic web pages.
It holds great potential for the future of the web, providing features that greatly extend the capabilities that web developers can offer to their clients. A decision to utilize ASP or ASP.NET may be a deciding factor for you in the choice of platform you look for in a hosting company.
Databases – MySQL, Access and other
MySQL is a common database on Linux based servers. It is also available for Windows and is starting to appear on the list of offerings from more and more Windows-based hosting providers.
Access is a Database Management System (DBMS) from Microsoft that combines the relational Microsoft Jet Database Engine with a graphical user interface and software-development tools.
It is a member of the Microsoft Office suite of applications, thus only available for Windows.
Large database systems such as SQL Server and Oracle can be accessed through interfaces such as Open Database Connectivity(ODBC). There are also ODBC connections to such a system as the IBM AS/400, which is fairly common in medium-sized businesses.
Interfaces that are fairly specialized are more commonly available on Windows systems, and in the offerings of hosting, companies are usually special requests or custom solutions. If you have a need for such a connection, you will need to talk to the potential hosting service representatives.
Recent advances in operating systems, and especially in the areas of interoperability, have brought the available feature sets of Windows and Linux based website hosting offerings much closer to each other. Where in the past, there have been cut and dry advantages to one over the other for particular applications.
These differences have now diminished to the point where the choice of operating system a hosting service company makes is frequently not a concern to the client but a preference. With a few exceptions, as noted above, you can choose which one of the operating systems fits your needs better and go with it!