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How to Select the Right Operating System for Your Web Hosting

by John Lenaghan

Windows or Unix/Linux - which operating system should you choose for your web hosting? This question is often asked when webmasters start looking for web site hosting. The operating system you choose can make a big difference in your business plans as your website grows.

Windows-Based Web Hosts

Windows-based servers use programs such as Microsoft Access and MS SQL for "back-end" operations. Scripting is also handled by Microsoft technologies such as ASP (Active Server Pages) and VBScript.

Perhaps more importantly, Windows-based servers can easily be managed and multiplexed by using .NET technology. They offer excellent support, security and integration for Microsoft products.

They're a good choice for either shared or dedicated hosting, but the features offered by Windows servers do come at an extra cost which may be an issue for small businesses.

The reason there is often a higher cost associated with Windows servers is because the software they are based on costs the hosting company money. They have to buy them all from Microsoft, and that cost gets passed on to you.

This is in comparison to the free software technologies which are generally used on Unix or Linux-based servers.

Unix/Linux-Based Web Hosts

Unix and Linux are two different operating systems, but because they work essentially the same way, we'll consider them as one for the purposes of this article.

One of the most important characteristics of Unix-based servers is that they can handle a large amount of traffic. Unix is a robust operating system and can easily handle hosting multiple websites on a single server.

They're also very flexible and the services running on a given webserver are easily customizable. Unlike Windows, Unix servers aren't limited to special remote administration programs. Any computer with an internet connection can login to a typical Unix server using freely available software.

A lot of webmasters choose Unix over Windows because of the server uptime. Windows servers can provide very good uptime as well, but to do so the web hosting company has to be proficient with Microsoft systems. There tend to be more hosts who are familiar with Unix than with Windows on the hosting side of things.

So Which is the Right Choice?

For the average website, a Unix hosting plan is often the best choice. However, if you need to use Microsoft technologies such as Access or MS SQL databases, or ASP or VBScript scripting languages, you should opt for a Windows host.

Note that even though Frontpage is a Microsoft product, it is supported by both Windows and Unix hosts. If you're considering a Unix host and using Frontpage, make sure they offer "Frontpage Extensions" support.

Thursday, Oct 5th, 2006