When you are comparing hosting plans between different companies, you will not always be able to compare things like for like. One of the key differences you will come across is the operating system that a plan is hosted on. The most common operating system is Linux. This is what the vast majority of hosting companies use, however Windows is a popular choice too.
To the end user, there is no difference to what a company uses. It does not change how a website is displayed. From an administration point of view, there are noticeable differences.
Web Hosting Control Panels
For many years, popular web hosting control panels were released specifically for one specific operating system. This has changed a little over the last few years. For 15 years cPanel was only available for Unix and Linux systems, however in 2011 cPanel released a Windows version of their product entitled Enkompass. Plesk is also available for both Linux and windows now.
There are still some control panels that are only available for Windows or Linux, but unless you absolutely need to use a control panel that is only available for one system, you should be able to use your preferred control panel on either system (though there are usually slight differences between different versions).
There are certain applications that are only supported on one particular system.
- Windows – Windows supports ASP.NET, Cold Fusion, VB Development, C# and Microsoft products such as Access.
- Linux – SSH is native to Linux, as are Apache Modules. Due to Linux being open-source, there are thousands of applications available for the system free. In contrast, most Windows applications need to be purchased.
MYSQL can be used on both systems though MSSQL is a common option for Windows users. Languages such as PHP and Perl tend to be associated with Linux but can also be used on Windows.
Due to Linux being open source, hosting plans that use Linux tend to be cheaper than their Windows equivalents.
I have heard many people state that Linux is much more secure than Windows. This may have been true at one point, though there is nothing to suggest that one is more secure than the other today as both take security seriously.
There are many small differences between the way Linux and Windows handle things, though most of these should not concern you.
- File names in Linux are case sensitive, whereas in Windows they are not (i.e. in Linux systems, page.html is not the same as Page.html).
- Windows uses a hidden file for swap files whilst Linux uses a partition.
- Windows has to boot from a primary partition whilst Linux can boot from extended partitions.
- Windows separates directories with back slashes whilst Linux use forward slashes.
There are pros and cons to using either system, however I believe the decision of which system to use is straightforward. If you need to use Microsoft products, make sure you choose a Windows based hosting plan. Otherwise, the cheaper price and availability of open source applications makes Linux the obvious choice.