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Choosing The Right Hosting Platform

Updated - 11/08/2002

Many articles will frame the Windows vs Unix argument in terms of, "Which hosting platform is better?". The actual decision of which platform to use is more like, "Which is better suited to my needs?" Your website's "needs" will be determined by what specific functions you want it to perform, combined with what programming language and the type of database you choose to enable those functions.

The main thing to remember is that your choice of hosting platform will dictate the type of software and the kind of applications that your website can utilize.

The Advantages of Unix / Linux Hosting

For comparison with the Windows hosting platform, Unix and Linux are essentially the same since Linux is actually a Unix derivative.

The Unix platform offers tried and tested stability and the speed for operating web server applications. Unix and Linux have traditionally been the operating systems of choice for most advanced Internet users. The reason for this is mainly because of its reputation as a very flexible and capable operating system. In laymen's terms, Unix web servers will crash less often than Windows web servers, meaning they can generally guarantee a greater amount of uptime for your website.

Beyond reliability, Unix hosting also offers many server applications and programs that have been written exclusively for use with Unix. Since Unix is an open source platform, tons of developers have already created a wide variety of CGI scripts, PHP scripts, and MySQL applications that will work on nearly any Unix / Linux system. If you choose Windows hosting, you may find that many of the scripts you want to use won't work since they were not designed for Windows.

The Advantages of Windows Hosting

Further classified into NT or 2000, the Windows platform is the only credible alternative to Unix/Linux. Windows 2000 Server is the newer hosting platform, and it has all but completely replaced Windows NT. If you see a web host using Windows NT servers, it should be a clue that their systems are probably a little outdated.

The main "advantage" or distinction of Windows servers is that they are configured to be compatible with Microsoft applications, such as FrontPage, Access and MS SQL. Windows servers also offer web developers the use of programming environments such as Active Server Pages (ASP), Visual Basic Scripts, MS Index Server and ColdFusion.

For more inexperienced website owners, Windows servers are typically seen as easier to use then Unix/Linux. If you have a familiarity with using other Microsoft applications, then learning how to use Microsoft's hosting applications comes a bit more natural than figuring out the command line structure of Unix/Linux.

The main downside lies in costs, since all of Microsoft's applications are proprietary. Hosting companies have to pay for using them, whereas with Unix/Linux most applications are free to use. Also, Windows servers usually require a larger technical staff to maintain than other hosting platforms. In the end, this means Windows hosting is more expensive for the average hosting account.

Choose Your Applications, Then Choose Your Platform

As the saying goes, "Knowing is half the battle." In choosing a hosting provider, this is exceptionally true. You should spend some time deciding what type of applications you wish to run on your website first. Doing this ahead of time makes choosing the type of hosting platform a non-issue.

  • If you are going to add dynamic content on your site using PHP/MySQL applications, CGI scripts or Java Server Pages (JSP), then you should choose Unix/Linux for the compatibility with these applications.
  • If you are going to use ASP/Access scripting combinations, ColdFusion, VB scripts or a MS SQL Server database, then choose the only hosting platform that fully supports them - Windows.

Simply put, always determine the goals for your website first. Then, verify the compatibility of the applications or programming languages that you will use with the platform that supports them. Once you have these questions fully answered, you can easily decide which platform is the most suitable for your needs.

For an additional comparison, view this Windows / Unix Comparison from Hostway.

If you'd like to read some more helpful articles on choosing a low cost hosting provider, then please return to our Hosting Guides section.

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