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Web Hosting Platforms: A Comparison
Published: Sunday, April 18, 2004

Operating system for web hosting

The operating system (OS) of a computer is a software that makes the other computer hardware and software work together. The most commonly used operating systems for home computers are Windows and Macintosh. In order to decide what operating system to use for web hosting, one has to be familiar with the underlying technologies that can be used.

In addition to the operating system, the server requires a special software for rendering web pages on the internet known as web server software. Most common web server software are Internet Information Services (IIS) for Windows and Apache for all platforms (Windows, Linux and Unix).

Choosing the right operating system
  • Windows
    Windows, a Microsoft product, is very popular because of its user friendly interfaces, which made the windowing environment so easy. Almost all tasks can be done by point and click of the mouse instead of writing DOS commands. Windows is recommended for most novice users because of the simplicity of the configurations and help available either from Windows or on the internet. Windows is preferred if you plan to use Active Server Pages (ASP) or .NET as the server technology on IIS. Windows should also be used if Microsoft Access or MS SQL Server is used as a database.

    Pros: Server management is much easier in Windows than any other OS. Most software vendors support Windows because of the popularity of the OS. There are in-built software (such as email) that is provided with Windows.

    Cons: The Windows server software is costly ($300 - $600 per license), which leads to higher web hosting costs. Portability of the applications to other platforms is a problem if using Windows. The operating system has many other drawbacks such as higher vulnerability to security flaws and hackers.

  • Unix
    Unix is the father of the operating system, and has been used for servers over a few decades. Unix operating systems boasts itself as the most stable and reliable system available. It is used in almost all large and complex computer systems. The hardware that is best suited for Unix are provided by the hardware vendors such as IBM, HP and Sun Microsystems. The servers from these vendors cost a lot of money (often in 100s of thousands of dollars). However, a free version of Unix, known as FreeBSD, is now available for small scale web hosting needs on cheaper server hardware provided by Intel.

    Pros: Stability and reliability is the foremost reason of using Unix as a platform. The servers can run for years without restart and memory leaks. Less vulnerable to security flaws and hacker attacks.

    Cons: Cost can be a factor for larger implementations of Unix servers. However, FreeBSD is gaining popularity because of its versatility as a free open source Unix platform. Server configuration and maintenance requires special knowledge and skills. Available software for this platform is not as common as it is for Windows.

  • Linux
    Linux has gained a lot of popularity as a web hosting platform because of cost (free), open source, and support for a wide variety of technologies such as PHP and MySQL.

    Pros: Unix like environment providing better stability, reliability and performance than Windows. The operating system software is free, so web hosting costs are very low. Support for the most popular free and open source technologies such as PHP, MySQL etc. Due to increasing popularity, a lot of support is available on the internet.

    Cons: Server configuration and maintenance requires special knowledge and skills. Available software for this platform is not as common as it is for Windows.

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