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What is Linux?
Linux is the most popular operating system (OS) used by Web hosting providers. This versatile and powerful alternative to Microsoft Windows is available in a variety of free, “freemium” and commercial iterations.
Why Choose Linux Hosting?
Many hosts - particularly shared hosting providers - default to Linux for hosting packages, so it's by far the market leader. It's also the operating system used by Google to run its vast banks of servers: more than 15,000 and counting.
The History of Linux
The Linux operating system was forked from UNIX in 1991. Finnish system engineer Linus Torvalds worked on his creation as part of his computer science degree, and was named after him - albeit by someone else. Over the next few years, Torvalds' Linux became incredibly popular among the developer community. In 1996, it gained its famous penguin logo in homage to a penguin that bit Torvalds at Australia's National Zoo.
Over the years, Linux has been split, merged, reinvented, repackaged and forked again and again, and it owes its success to a massive user community that maintains and improves it continually.
There are various Linux distributions, and many of them are free, so you might see Linux referred to as CentOS, Fedora, Ubuntu, RedHat Linux and so on. This proves its huge following, but not everyone is a fan. Microsoft's Steve Ballmer notably referred to it as having "characteristics of communism" at a Seattle event in 2000.
Companies can adopt Linux and develop their own operating systems from it. Google's Chrome OS is effectively a version of Linux, and Android owes a lot to it too.
Microsoft has softened its views and now uses Linux on its X range of Nokia phones. Dell now sells laptops with Ubuntu pre-installed. Caconical - owners of Ubuntu - are marketing a Linux smartphone.
Why Choose Linux for Hosting?
Many people buy web hosting without giving much thought to the technical details. If you have a low cost shared hosting plan, chances are it's provisioned on servers running Linux. You benefit because:
- It is very stable, so your website will be online for longer
- It's secure, assuming it's kept updated, so you have fewer hacks to worry about
- You can use industry standard web hosting software, such as the popular cPanel control panel, so moving host is less disruptive
- It keeps costs down for the host, which allows them to pass on savings to you
- The way things work is pretty standard from host to host
In modern web hosting, Linux is configured according to the LAMP standard. LAMP stands for:
- Linux, the operating system
- Apache, the web server application
- MySQL, the Structured Query Language database application
- PHP (PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor), a programming language that enables the development of dynamic web content
This standard gives you everything you need to run a perfectly acceptable, modern website. You need to learn about things like Linux file permissions, but there are plenty of guides on the internet to help.
Why Do Hosts Choose Linux?
Hosts like Linux because:
- It's powerful
- It scales well for most purposes
- It's usually free
- It's supported by a large user community
- It can be used on old servers
- It can be customised by the host
- Control panels like cPanel hide the OS from the customer, so they don't mess things up quite so often
Additionally, many web hosting companies have invested heavily in Linux, making Linux administration a desirable skill for developers and technicians to have. There are certifications, like the RedHat Certified Engineer program, that prove the candidate's Linux ability, and hosts can focus efforts (like technical support) on just one platform that everyone in the company recognises.
Linux vs Windows
Not all popular scripts and languages require Linux. WordPress can be installed on a Windows server, as can Perl (via Strawberry Perl) and PHP. However, they aren't so well supported and may not be as stable in practice. Here's some information about WordPress on Windows vs Linux.
On the flip side, Linux servers don't support ASP, .NET and IIS, so that's a very good reason to choose Windows. Additionally, Windows is a good all-rounder, running most applications reasonably well and making it a practical alternative.