Most web hosting companies use either one of two operating systems on their servers. Those two are Windows and Linux. What is the difference between the two and how do they effect your web hosting?
Linux is one of the most prevalent operating systems for web hosting, because it is inexpensive and fairly easy to install. Windows is the other choice because they have world class support. However there are a lot of similarities and a lot of differences in how the two operate.
The first thing most people notice when they join up with a new host is the way they access the back end of their websites. Many people are familiar with cPanel, which is available on all Linux OS hosting. WHM, or Web Host Manager, is also available on Linux servers, but not on Shared Linux servers. Windows servers on the other hand run Plesk.
The next thing that you may notice about your web hosting is how you are able to access and transfer files to and in the server. Both operating systems have FTP access, but Linux is usually the only one that supplies telnet or ssh access as well. It’s not that Windows can’t do that, but it’s very rarely offered by hosting admins.
Linux and Windows servers can both provide CGI and Perl, PHP and ASP, though Linux is the one that you find those on more commonly. Both operating systems may also provide ColdFusion.
If you are going to run dynamic websites, you are going to want to be able to build and access databases. You may be familiar with mySQL, or perhaps you have used Access. If you are used to seeing mySQL and working with that, you have probably been on a Linux server. Windows can run it but it’s rare that you find mySQL on Windows and those servers are usually running Access.
Many people would say that Windows operating systems are full of security holes. While this may or may not be true, the truth is that both Linux and Windows have vulnerabilities. Security is an issue that you should look at on the web hosting administrator level rather than the operating system. A good hosting company will work endlessly to ensure their server security.
Some people may site FrontPage extensions as a Windows exclusive feature, but some Linux servers will provide this as well.
The last difference, case sensitivity, is actually very important. With Linux, file and directory names are case sensitive. So if you name a file AboutUs.html, and another page in the same directory as aboutus.html, you actually will have to completely different pages. Your visitors will have to enter your page URLs precisely or risk landing on 404 error pages. Windows servers however really don’t care about upper and lowercase. On a Windows server, you would only have one aboutus.html page, no matter where you put or left out capitalization.
These differences between server operating systems may sound insignificant, but they can have a major impact on how you manage your site as well as your site traffics experience with your site. Armed with knowing which operating system does what, you can find or set up a web hosting server that will best meet your needs.