Unless you already are skilled in server management, or at least have some experience with websites, deciding on which is best, Windows or Unix/Linux can be a confusing decision. In essence, they accomplish the same thing, delivering your web files to the world, but they operate very differently from each other.
The Definition of a Windows server
Stated simply, Windows server is Microsoft software, designed to serve files to the public. There are some that say it’s interface is easier to use, but there are mixed opinions concerning that. The server can run multiple programming languages like MS SQL and ASP.NE, which are created by Microsoft, and PHP and MySQL, though some patching fo the software may be needed.
Is a Windows Server Right For You?
One question to ask is how familiar are you with Windows technology? If you’re a skilled Windows user, then using a Windows server may be more intuitive then using Unix which is widely used on the web, but may be foreign to you. The idea is to make the transition as seamless as possible from your desktop to the web. An additional reason is the updates, which are pretty much continuous from Microsoft, so you can be assured of running the latest software with, for the most part, automatic updates. Support from Microsoft is usually built into the software license, and everyone, from time to time, needs good and established support, which can be assured from Microsoft. If your website relies heavily on database integration, then using ASP *(active server pages), may be a strong reason to consider a Windows server.
Are There Drawback to Windows Servers
There are always tradeoffs with hosting. One site may be less expensive but offer fewer resources. Another site may give you excellent storage capacity, but be limited regarding bandwidth. Windows servers are, generally speaking, more resource hungry than similar Unix/Linux machines. This won’t be a factor if you’re planning your hosting on a dedicated server, but if shared hosting is your target, you’ll find that a Windows server will not perform as you’d like. Additionally, there may be added expenses or licensing fees for specific software. You’ll need to weigh your options and do your due diligence on this one.
Being Aware of the Differences Between Windows and Unix Hosting
Both Unix and Windows servers are quite capable of serving your files to the world and running applications like email, databases, and e-commerce. While there are many similarities, there are differences. Windows Enterprise Servers were written by and supported by Microsoft, while Unix is open source, meaning anyone can alter the code as needed for their particular situation. Finding qualified support isn’t difficult, but it’s not as easy as calling one central location, like Microsoft.
Windows Server is a robust operating system that is capable of running most Windows programs, including Microsoft Frontpage and ASP (Active Server Pages). CGI programs were written on Unix and run better in that environment, though there are workarounds that allow many to be run on Windows Server. In recent years, PHP has become the programming language of choice with Unix based machines, integrating with MySQL databases and performing much the same results as ASP.
Is Unix / Linux Better Than Windows For Hosting?
It cannot be denied that.UNIX is used more for serving websites to the world than Windows. This, of course, offers up the question of why is UNIX better suited? Stability and ease of configuration are the top reasons. UNIX servers often run for months, even years without requiring restarts or reconfiguration. And, should a reconfigure be necessary, they can be done on the fly, without requiring a reboot, which is not the case with Windows. The web is a place where time is money, and if your website is down for maintenance, no sales can be made during that time.
UNIX is also ideal for performing varied tasks simultaneously, critical for the operation of a website. Since Linux runs on the UNIX system, it was designed from the ground up to be more secure, while also be ideal for multiple users. While both Windows and UNIX based servers can experience malware attacks, UNIX is less vulnerable to these attacks.
Every computer will eventually have some hardware failure, that’s inevitable whether you’re running Windows or UNIX. Windows Server, however, will require more frequent hardware updates to be compatible with Microsoft software upgrades.
When running Windows, you’ll be offered multiple opportunities to try the latest, server-based software, by numerous vendors looking for sales. With Linux, since it’s open source, you won’t be bombarded by commercial offers but will be free to choose the software you feel is best for your business.
There are multiple factors you’ll need to consider when choosing between Windows and UNIX, but the initial decision is usually based on the programming language you need. While it is possible to convert from ASP to PHP, it’s not a simple or inexpensive process, and the reverse is also true. If your website is based on Windows software, it’s likely that is the direction you should take, or certainly consider seriously. If instead, you’re building a website from scratch, the UNIX/Linus would likely be the better choice.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The windows operating system you use on your personal computer should NOT be the deciding factor in your choice of hosting, only server-based applications like SQL Server .NET and ASP. If your site was built with Microsoft Frontpage, the necessary extensions could be added on UNIX, or a designer can port your site to PHP or HTML.
Up Time Statistics
UNIX is the hands-down winner when it comes to stability. When you see hosting companies offering 99.9% uptime, you can bet your last dollar they are running UNIX. Windows servers just need to be restarted more often, that’s not a criticism, just a fact.
Imagine this scenario; a traditional name brand car is traveling down the street at 55mph quite comfortably. In the lane next to it is a race car, also doing 55mph. Both cars are moving without strain, and at first glance, they are operating the same. That would change instantly if both vehicles attempted to accelerate to 100mph. That is much the same with a Windows server as compared to UNIX/Linux, under light loads, both servers deliver files without issue. However, Linus has proven itself to be more powerful and consistent when the loads are high.
As your business grows, likely your website will also. You may need a dedicated server, possibly cloud hosting or you may become more reliant on particular Windows programs like .NET and VB development. If your website does depend on those programs, Windows would be the better choice as UNIX, while it’s possible adjustments could be made, are not compatible with most Windows programs out of the box. Conversely, if you are not dependant on Microsoft technology to power your website, then the scalability of UNIX is superior to Windows Servers, mainly as a website grows and more users access it simultaneously.
Compatibility of Windows and UNIX
UNIX can be adapted to run Windows programs, and Windows can be adjusted to run selected UNIX programs. With that thought, one might think that the choice os servers don’t matter, but that isn’t true. While both platforms can be adapted, neither run the others software without modifications and often these are detailed and technical. It is far better to stay with the native language where Windows Servers run Microsoft technology and UNIX or Linux runs programs written for that platform.
Windows Server requires licensing fees, while Linux, which is the server software that runs on UNIX, is open source and free. This equates to increased costs when using the Windows Server environment.
The Bottom Line
UNIX and Linux have won the hosting wars hands down and is the better choice for general websites, no matter their size. However, if your site is built on .NET or Visual Basic, then Windows should be your choice. UNIX is faster, less expensive and able to handle the demands of a heavily used web server more efficiently than Windows Server. The final choice, however, is yours.