Windows or Unix (Linux) Web Hosting - Which is the best choice?

       January 1, 0000    1349


This question is asked by people that are new to web hosting and web design every day. This question is the single most important decision you will make when looking to purchase web hosting. Unix (and Linux variants) and Windows are the two main operating systems powering web servers today, and each operating systems has its own unique features, and this brings their own advantages and disadvantages.

In this article I will outline the advantages of each operating system, and a short comparison of the two operating systems.

Before we get to the comparison of the two operating systems, you must know that the operating system you use on your desktop is not relevant to your choice of operating system used by your host to serve your website. Many people feel that if they use Windows on their desktop, they should also choose a web hosting provider that also uses Windows. This is simply not the case, for example if you used Microsoft Frontpage to design your website, typically Unix operating systems will have Frontpage Extensions installed to allow you to use Frontpage to its full potential.

Unix Overview

Today most web developers choose Unix systems to host their websites, everyday Windows loses more ground to Unix in market share in the web hosting market, why is this the case? The number one reason this is occurring is price. Web hosting providers typically use free editions of Unix based Linux operating systems such as Debian, Red Hat, or Free BSD, this alone reduces the end cost of a web hosting plan to the consumer due to there being no licensing fees incurred like there is with the Windows operating system.

The free editions of Linux are released under what is known as the GNU license, this license has no costs involved, and also allows access to the source code of the operating system to allow for modification and optimization which is very important, this allows the host to optimize the operating system to their hardware requirements, and also allows quick fixes for any security issues that may come up.

Typically Unix web servers are the most stable, with the flexibility required to allow upgrades and expansion. Almost always Unix servers that are setup for serving websites are configured in text mode which uses fewer resources, they do not run a graphical user interface which allows the server to devote as much of its own resources to the websites it is hosting. Unix based operating systems support the following. PHP, MySQL, PostgresSQL, Perl, CGI-BIN, Ruby on Rails and many more.

Windows Hosting Overview

This of course is the most widely known operating system, and as you know, you pay to use the Windows operating system on your desktop, and this is no different when it comes to using the Windows Server operating system. The Windows Server operating system does support some technologies that Unix currently does not. Only Windows hosting plans support scripting languages such as Active Server Pages (ASP), Cold Fusion, Active Perl, C++, C#, and Visual Basic.

Only Windows Server operating system will run Microsoft applications such as Microsoft Access Databases, Microsoft SQL Databases, IIS. If you are planning to use any of the above languages or database types on your website, you will need to purchase a Windows hosting plan.

The Comparison

Performance - In low server load conditions Windows and Unix have similar performance, but under high server loads, Unix is superior to Windows.

Stability - Unix copes much better than Windows with high server loads, this leads to less reboots required on the server to maintain optimal performance, and in turn increases your websites uptime.

Compatibility - If you develop a website under Unix, typically it will be easy to run on a Windows server, but the reverse is not as easy, especially if you have used a Windows based language. Avoid using a Windows programming languages if possible, in the long term you may wish to move to a Unix based server, and this will not be possible without a major redesign of the websites code.

Price - Any server hosting a website requires an operating system, and the associated licenses to use that operating system. Windows 2003 Server and applications cost a lot of money to run, typically the cost of the software is on a per user basis, and as the users on a server increase, so does the licensing costs. On the other hand, Unix and its Linux variants are freely available to download, and are also free to use and operate. This is why Unix based web hosting is almost always the cheaper option.

Final Words

Unix hosting typically offers more stability, better performance, more compatibility, and lower costs compared to a Windows hosting plan. I typically recommend Unix hosting for the reasons stated above, I only ever recommend Windows hosting if your website has been developed using ASP, .NET or another Microsoft application.


Article Written By David J. Smith, owner and operator of

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