A Guide To Hosting – Linux or Windows?

Introduction

As we all know there are a myriad of hosting companies out there all vying for our business, but there is one question that a lot of people take for granted. ‘Do I go with a Linux service or a Windows service?’

Background

Before we get to the nitty gritty of what each service can offer you,t’s a good a idea to have a bit of background knowledge on the respective platforms so you can at least sound like you know what you’re talking about.

For the uninitiated, Linux (pronounced with a short ‘i’ and the ‘ux’ as in ‘tuxedo’) began life in 1991 at the hands of a young Finn named Linus Torsvald who released Linux as an extension to Minix, an open source operating system that was being used in many US universities. The functionality of Linux soon surpassed that of Minix and it was soon available with a General Public License that allowed free distribution. As a hosting service, Linux has grown in popularity due to the number of programming and script languages it supports and the nature of what it stands for to the more ‘old school’ users out there.

I hardly need to document the history of the Windows platform in detail for most to have an understanding of how it got to where it is now. It was first introduced as an add-on for MS-DOS in response to the growing demand for graphical user interfaces. As various subsequent releases hit the market they were met with varying levels of praise and popularity. The most commercially successful server software available is Windows Server 2003, which as I write this article is being usurped by Server 2008. ’2003′ offers similar functionality to XP, making it familiar to millions of users.

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Choosing Between the Two

To compare the two platforms I have decided to base their respective performance on a number of factors, namely, price, stability, ease of use, and functionality.

Price

Most articles might leave this factor until last, maybe in order to build some sort of tension. Some might consider this the most important aspect of your choice but I beg to differ. Obviously the price you pay is highly dependent on the hosting company you go with but traditionally Linux is seen as the cheaper option mainly due to the free licensing that Microsoft products do not enjoy. Expect to pay around 4.00/month for good quality, basic hosting services on the Linux platform and a touch more for a similar level of service on Windows servers.

WINNER: Linux by knockout

Stability

With Linux having being developed for the multi-user environment since the 1960′s, developers have had more time to make it more stable than the Windows environment. That said, I cannot comment on the 2008 edition of Windows server having not had a chance to test it. Included in the factor of stability, is security. With Linux having been developed over the years by a number of ‘hackers’ and not having the stigma of being a big corporation it does tend to be more secure and have the advantage of being targeted less by hackers. It is generally agreed that the Linux platform is more stable and secure.

WINNER: Linux by points

Ease of Use

Both formats of hosting are almost as easy to use as the other. Those more familiar with the Windows processes will find Windows naturally easier to use, although with Windows generally not being as reliable you may regard a lack of reliability as an overriding influence on ease of use. As long as your Linux host server has enabled FrontPage extensions (for easy uploading of content to your site) then there really isn’t much difference in ease of use. Considering Linux has been around longer, it is more popular and therefore has higher levels of support available.

WINNER: A dead heat

Functionality

The major attraction of the Windows Server system is that of its Access database support (and MySQL by association), and the ease of integrating online and offline systems with ASP.net, such as a bank might need for example. Windows Servers also support Windows Media files and Visual Basic scripts. In contrast Linux supports the RealPlayer media software line. Both platforms offer pretty much the same script support (PHP, CGI, XML, etc) and you would be hard pushed to find anything you needed on one platform that the other did not have.

WINNER: Windows on points

Summary

If one were to purely judge each platform on the above factors then Linux would be my hosting standard of choice. It offers almost identical functionality at a lower cost with a slightly more stable environment. We are beginning to see a more concerted effort by hackers to target the Linux platform so it will be interesting to see how the developers respond.

The best piece of advice I can give is to list what you realistically need from your host and then choose the best hosting company you can. They will hold the key to you having a secure and reliable service and should be able to offer advice on which platform best suits your pre-determined requirements. However don’t let them bully you into upgrading to services you can not envisage ever using.

Having investigated a number of hosting options I can personally recommend the service and support offered by UKHost4u.com, a London based hosting company offering a range of both Windows and Linux plans at affordable prices.

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