Linux vs. Windows: which is the best operating system for your server?
Even if you’re completely comfortable with choosing a hosting plan, you may struggle when it comes to your choice of server software. In fact, you may not have even realised this was a decision you’d have to make.
Fortunately, the options for choosing a server operating system (OS) are usually simple. For example, if you’re opting for a plan such as our dedicated servers or VPS hosting, you’ll use either Windows or Linux to run the server.
In this post, we’ll compare both solutions, and help you decide which one is right for you. However, before that, let’s discuss why this step is so important.
Why does the choice of server OS matter?
You can be forgiven for only now asking this question, as it’s not a consideration many website owners make. We’ll touch on the reasons for that shortly, but if this is a completely new concept for you, it’s helpful to first make a comparison to desktop computing.
Many internet discussions about OSs usually degrade into a Mac versus Windows debate. There are plenty of reasons for this – lots of people have a strong preference based on ease of use, feature set, power, speed, and other key characteristics.
The same applies to your hosting server. Personal preference and comfort levels will have an impact, especially if you have a dedicated team member managing your server. For instance, imagine that they’ve only ever used Linux servers, and they now have to manage a Windows version. This may impact their ability to deliver quality support.
Of course, it’s also important to choose the correct application for your needs. For example, some OS variants are better suited to security setups, while others are more generic in nature. Therefore, it’s important to take personal and technological factors into account.
Which hosting plans let you choose a server OS?
Ultimately, every hosting plan is built with a server at its core. As such, you could theoretically choose whichever OS you like. However, this isn’t practically possible on the vast majority of plans.
For example, shared hosting is usually an economy option with regard to price, resources, and features. As such, your host may decide that the cheapest server is the only option it can make available.
In contrast, with higher-priced tiers, you’ll often be afforded more freedom when it comes to the exact setup – especially with dedicated servers, and VPS hosting to a lesser extent. Having a choice of OS on these plans makes sense, as you’ll be running it yourself.
Of course, it’s important to consider whether you should even make the decision about which OS to use. Unless you’re taking a direct role in managing the server or have specific needs, it’s a step that you can leave to your hosting provider. If you do need to make a choice yourself, however, you’ll typically have two options.
Linux vs. Windows: Which is the best OS for your server?
Picking an OS for your server usually comes down to a choice between Linux and Windows. As such, you can make a direct comparison, and the decision may be easier than you think. Let’s begin with an outlier when it comes to personal computers.
If you’re like most people, Linux is an OS you’ve heard of, but haven’t had much experience with. When it comes to running a server, however, Linux is the overwhelming choice for many users.
For starters, Linux is open-source and offers many different ‘distros’. These are essentially offshoot OSs, each with a different focus. What’s more, each distro can be tweaked to your exact requirements.
Linux also offers a lot of flexibility, as well as support for Perl, which is a high-level programming language with immense power. When it comes to databases, Linux supports MySQL, which is arguably the most popular database solution due to its compatibility with Perl.
If you have even a passing interest in computing, Windows is likely to be a very familiar name to you. However, this OS has much less traction among professionals when it comes to running a server.
This arguably comes down to Windows’ database software – MSSQL – which is less powerful and doesn’t support Perl. Cost can also be an issue, since a licence is required, although this is admittedly not a concern for those buying directly from a host.
However, while Windows doesn’t support Perl, you do get access to Active Server Pages (ASP) and ASP.NET. Theses are popular Windows-only solutions for creating dynamic web pages and applications.
Finally, given the popularity of Windows, it can be a top choice for getting up and running almost immediately – especially if you’re self-managing your server.
Which server OS is right for you?
Ultimately, the answer to this question is: “It depends”. In fact, the only person who can really answer it is you, based on, but not limited to, the following criteria:
- Your site’s goals
- The specific plan you choose
- Your budget
- Any software you’ve already decided to use
- The experience either you or your team has with managing a server
You’ll want to weigh up all of these factors, especially the final one. For example, if you’re completely clueless about which OS you need, and are leaving most of the management to your host, we recommend picking Linux. However, Windows is a smart pick for those who want to manage a server for their small business, and to stay within a familiar framework.
Admittedly, the differences in each OS won’t make a huge difference on a lot of day-to-day applications. If you do have unique requirements, though, you’ll want to work with an expert to get some help deciding how your server should be set up.
Just as you choose an OS for your personal computer and smart devices, you’ll need to do the same for your website’s hosting server. Don’t worry if you haven’t accounted for this decision, however – the options at your disposal are simple enough, especially if you’re opting for a dedicated or VPS hosting plan.
When it comes to picking an OS for your server, your two primary choices are Windows and Linux. Let’s quickly recap the highlights of both:
- Linux: this is an incredibly popular choice among professionals, and recommend if you’re delegating server management to an expert.
- Windows: In contrast, a Windows server can be a familiar setting that’s ideal for those with less experience in managing a server.
Do you have any questions about whether you should choose Windows or Linux for your server’s OS? Ask away in the comments section below!