Background: What Does “Hosting” Mean?

How do people around the world – or even in your town – see your website?

Because there is a special-purpose computer that constantly displays your website online, 24×7.

That special purpose computer is a web server. It has two key qualities: it needs to be a very reliable computer, that has a very fast and reliable internet connection.

Web hosting is a business arrangement whereby you rent space and processing power on someone else’s computer that satisfies these requirements.

Web hosting is a demanding high tech service that you are most likely not prepared to directly provide for yourself.

The good news is that web hosts charge fairly low costs compared to their technology because they use economies of scale. Most web hosting companies have many clients just like you to fund their businesses through relatively inexpensive fees.  This also supports technical staffs that keep everything operating 24 x 365.

What Does “Windows or Linux Hosting” Mean?

In the space of web hosting, Linux and Windows are the most common alternatives for operating systems that web hosts run on their computers.

  • Windows – the version of Windows installed as a server – is very common in small and large businesses. Windows as a server is somewhat similar to the Windows that you use on your home or office desktop computer. But it is licensed and sold, priced, and run by technical staffs in much different ways than your desktop PC or laptop operating system.
  • Linux is a popular business and technical audience operating system. Linux is generally “free” – has no licensing costs – but may require high technical expertise  to run properly.

A Note – It DOESN’T Matter Whether You Use Windows at Home or In Your Office!

You should always think of your website hosting as a world apart from your day to day office computer use.

Even if you update your own website yourself, you can easily mix technologies between what you use personally, and what your web host uses. As an example:

  • Linux for your websites.
  • Windows for your bookkeeping.
  • iOS (Apple) for your desktop word processing
  • Android for phones and tablets

So, Which OS for Your Web Hosting? The Short and Inviolable Answer, Always…

The “best choice” always depends upon the website tools that were used to construct your website.

Generally, web site developers use either of two different families of tools to create websites, called technology stacks:

  • Microsoft technology: a database system called SQL Server; “Active Server Pages” or ASP; ASP.NET; or .NET computer languages. Or, website packages such the popular DotNetNuke.

  • Linux and open source technology: a database system called MySQL; programming languages called PHP, Python or Ruby; and common website packages such as WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal.

Each of these stacks of tools are two entirely separate domains. You generally won’t see a Microsoft website shop delivering Linux based websites using Drupal. Likewise, you won’t see a Linux website developer creating ASP based websites.

The reason for this dichotomy is skill and time investment. In short, a “jack of all trades” web professional is just not competitive in the marketplace.

In order to be good enough technically and skill wise to create and sell professional quality website solutions, an engineer or web developer must be a master of that one area of technology.

A secondary reason for this is career tracks. Most software people, and this includes web designers, tend to prefer either Windows platform or Linux and open source solutions in their own work. This tends to dictate what they offer to their own customers when they start web design businesses.

Why Isn’t There Just One Standard Website Platform?

You might as well ask: Why isn’t there just one standard automobile? What do we need all of these car companies for?

Why are there several political parties?

The answer is: competition.

(Special note: Linux “techies” and Windows developers can regard the other camp with suspicion and can be extremely competitive – exactly like political candidates.)

Competition exists between ideas, ideals, and principles – as well as competing products.

Competition. That’s why technology choices exist.

What Are the Associated Costs, Technical Impacts, Performance Issues…?

A well tuned web host that runs either Linux or Windows will be plenty fast for your business website – depending upon which set of technologies – the stack – that your website was developed under.

There are many methods that experienced web developers apply to websites, from content delivery networks (CDNs) for images and media, to selective caching of website content…which speed up the responsiveness of websites they design and host.

These techniques and options usually cause the issue of which operating system, Linux or Windows, as well as the technology stack, to recede into the background as a significant influencer of website performance.

In terms of costs, Windows web hosting tends to be somewhat more expensive than Linux. The main reason for this is that Windows website hosting requires the licensing of Windows itself, plus additional licensing fees for SQL Server as a database if your site has extensive database needs or contains a custom business application.

Selecting a Web Hosting Technology is Driven by Your Web Site’s Needs

Again, it comes back to who developed your website and what they used to develop your site:

  • A WordPress site is based upon Linux stack tools which in almost all cases are free for use: the Apache web server software; PHP language, MySQL database – and is easiest and most reliable to administer on a Linux website host. There are some web hosts and companies that run WordPress websites and PHP/MySQL tools on Windows, but this is not a well-supported, mainstream approach.
    WordPress sites almost always run on Linux.
  • A custom ASP.NET website is one based upon a Microsoft language – which is code for requiring Windows. The part of Windows server that is delivers web pages is called IIS, or Internet Information Services. Similarly to running a WordPress site on Windows, there is an open source project for Linux called Mono which is an adaptation (called a port) of Dot-Net languages to Linux. Just like running WordPress on Windows, this is not a mainstream approach that is well accepted in industry.
    ASP.NET websites almost always run on Windows servers.

What is the Role of Microsoft Azure?

Azure is a service based version of Windows Server. Your web host leases Azure. Azure reduces the technical expertise required by your web hosting company to keep things running smoothly.

What’s the Most Popular or Common Website Technology?

According to a website called W3Techs, Linux based systems are the most common web hosting solution worldwide. 

Linux (Unix) based web servers make up 66.5% of all web servers worldwide.

Windows based web servers make up the remaining 33.5% of web servers.

The Conclusion to be Drawn from All of This

Windows or Linux – the choice is moot and has effectively already been made for you. Your options for website hosting are pretty well baked into your website by whomever developed your site for you. If you have a WordPress website you’ll select Linux hosting. If you have a Microsoft technology website you’ll deal with Windows hosting.

Sources

“W3Techs.com – Usage Statistics and Market Share of Operating Systems for Websites, October 2016” – https://w3techs.com/technologies/overview/operating_system/all