If you operate a web server privately or want to rent one as part of a web hosting package from a provider, the question arises right from the start: Linux or Windows? The two operating systems have dominated the web hosting market for years and compete with each other for supremacy – with Linux still having the edge as a server veteran.
The decision for one of the two systems is still a difficult matter, mainly because the differences in application options and functional scope are only minimal. If you compare Linux and Windows, you can see at least some different advantages of both operating systems, most of them from compatibility result with the applications that are to be used.
Comparison of Linux and Windows as a hosting operating system
In the field of web hosting, Linux is widely regarded as the best operating system for web servers. The system has been available to everyone as free software since 1992 and, thanks to its simple modular structure, can be adapted to your own ideas with the appropriate knowledge.
Costs are only incurred if you use distributions with a paid support offer. With its reliability, stability, and efficiency, Linux has proven itself in the most demanding web and mail server environments.
If you intend to use PHP, Perl, Python, Ruby or MySQL, Linux is an excellent choice. If you are looking for blogs, content management systems, or discussion forums, various open-source applications are available in the Linux hosting area, while the software for Windows hosting is usually chargeable.
Since 1993 Microsoft has also been sending Windows Server, an operating system for server use, into the race. This is a paid software that also includes support and updates for the period advertised. A major advantage that Windows hosting had compared to a Linux variant is the support of the powerful ASP.NET framework, the latest version of which is, however, also compatible with Linux.
However, applications such as SharePoint or Exchange remain exclusive, with the help of which communication and joint work on projects are considerably simplified. There are also open source applications for Linux for this, but these are less popular in the corporate environment.
|Parameters||Windows web hosting||Linux web hosting|
|Software type||proprietary||Open source|
|Web server||Microsoft IIS||Apache, Nginx|
|Scripting languages||VBScript, ASP.NET||Perl, PHP, Python, Ruby|
|Databases||MSSQL, Microsoft Access||MySQL, MariaDB|
|Management software||Plesk||cPanel, Plesk, Confixx|
|Others||Exchange, .NET applications, SharePoint||WordPress, Joomla etc.|
The advantages and disadvantages of Linux as a web server operating system
Compared to Windows, the basic Linux philosophy is to keep the structure of the operating system as simple as possible. All components, even devices, and processes, are a file and adjustments to the system core can be implemented at any time.
Many simple tools help with the configuration and administration of the system – by default via the command line, but if necessary also via GUIs, which are available for almost all applications. The great freedoms are also linked to a high level of personal responsibility, which can quickly overwhelm an untested user.
The following table illustrates the advantages and weaknesses of Linux distributions as a server operating system :
|Use free of charge||Complex operation|
|Administrators benefit from the freedom to manage the system||The standard language of the command line and system messages is English|
|Supports cooperative work without the ordinary user being able to damage the program kernel||Some third-party programs can only be installed by the administrator|
|Rarely in the focus of cybercrime||Many hardware and software developers do not focus on porting for Linux distributions|
|Seldom security-relevant errors, which are then usually fixed quickly||Update process can be very complex|
|Low demands on the hardware||Not all versions receive long-term support|
|Integrated remote function for remote management||Some professional programs don’t work on Linux|
The advantages and disadvantages of Windows as a web server operating system
The fact that, unlike Linux, Windows is characterized by a very complex structure is mainly due to the fact that Microsoft has always strived for simple operation for its operating system. All programs are available in the form of intuitive, graphical user interfaces, which is why administration via the command line, which is basically possible, is not necessary.
The user usually has sole control over all hardware resources, receives regular feedback from the system, and can install software independently. However, this also harbors a certain potential for error if, for example, system settings are changed or downloaded, security-endangering applications are installed.
The following table summarizes the basic advantages and disadvantages of Windows servers in a nutshell:
|Beginner-friendly, intuitive operation via graphical user interfaces||High license costs that increase with each user|
|Drivers for current hardware are quickly available||Frequently security-related errors|
|Supports a large number of third-party applications||Vulnerable to malware|
|Simple and optionally automated system updates||Resource-consuming (especially due to the mandatory GUI)|
|Technical problems can be solved via system recovery||High potential for user error|
|Secured long-term support||Unsuitable as a multi-user system|
|Exclusive, popular Microsoft programs such as SharePoint or Exchange can be used||How the proprietary system works is not fully disclosed|
Linux and Windows in direct comparison
The preceding sections show the small but subtle differences that Windows and Linux have as server systems. Apart from technical and administrative criteria, it should also be mentioned that personal experience often plays a decisive role in whether a user gets along with the operating system or not. The same applies of course to the demands that the user has on the software.
While experienced system administrators rightly appreciate the freedom of Linux, these are often not relevant at all for the simple website operator who wants to choose an operating system.
The other way around, command line advocates see Windows administration via GUI not without reason as a redundant feature that consumes resources and provides a point of attack for malware.
Finally, at this point we will once again present the most important criteria for evaluating Linux and Windows in comparison:
|costs||License costs per user||License-free; depending on the distribution costs for support|
|Standard operation||Graphical user interface||Command-line|
|Remote access||Terminal server/client must be installed and configured||Integrated solution (terminal and shell)|
|Software & features||Supports popular programs; Use of Microsoft applications possible||Portings do not exist for all programs; a large arsenal of included applications|
|Hardware support||New hardware geared towards Windows systems by default||Hardware drivers for Linux distributions can usually only be used a little later|
|security||High potential for user error; integrated interface as a potential point of attack||Ordinary users have no access to basic system settings; known security gaps are closed quickly|
|Support||Long-term support for all versions||Support offerings vary depending on the distribution and version|
|documentation||System and system applications excellently documented; API components and data formats tend to be less frequent||Full source code of the system, API, libraries and applications disclosed; Man and info pages (mostly in English)|
The crucial question: Linux or Windows web hosting?
When you assemble your server modules, there is no avoiding the decision for an operating system – which many users make for the wrong reasons. For example, it is not uncommon to assume that the server system and the platform used on your own computer must be identical. Your own operating system plays no role at all, as administrators use management tools such as Plesk to manage the server that is compatible with both Linux and Windows can be controlled remotely.
If the costs are decisive, it can be assumed that Linux, which is basically available as open-source software, is always the cheaper server solution. In practice, however, this sometimes turns out to be a fallacy: Depending on the distribution, there are costs for the usually expensive support or for specialists with the necessary know-how. However, the complicated Windows license model is a small disadvantage.
Ultimately, no winner can be chosen in the duel between Linux and Windows servers, because different web projects can be implemented with both operating systems. While Windows offers more complex functions for structuring communication and work, Linux has some advantages if you want to use web applications such as a content management system.