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Windows Hosting - What You Need to Know
A Windows-driven hosting solution can provide significant advantages for those using ASP and .NET scripts or Microsoft Exchange (at a premium price). But before discussing this, let's get one things out of the way:
You don't need a Windows server just because you use a Windows PC or laptop. Web hosting is completely independent of your own set-up at home or in the office.
Reasons to Get Windows Hosting
Most low-cost hosting is provided on Linux servers, but a Linux set-up isn't suitable for everyone. If you design your site using ASP and .NET, you'll need a Windows host to properly support it. And there are some other good reasons to reject Linux hosting, too.
Choosing a new hosting plan is a complicated process. As well as different capacities and resource allocations, you'll also come across different platforms: Windows and Linux. There are various versions of both to choose from. Before signing up, you will need to decide whether Linux hosting will be the right option for your site, or whether you should invest in Windows hosting.
The majority of the world's websites are hosted on Linux servers. (Here's why.) While Linux is a great general purpose operating system, you'll need Windows for specific applications and technologies.
- You'll need a Windows server for anything that requires the .NET framework. Specifically, Windows is required for anything written in ASP (which stands for Active Server Pages, so the clue is in the name) or ASP.NET.
- You will also need a Windows server if you're working with Visual Basic (VB), ColdFusion or C#.
- Windows is required if you need to hook into any products in the Microsoft stack, such as Exchange, or if you're working in SharePoint. This includes designing content in SharePoint Designer.
- If you need to host legacy content built in Microsoft FrontPage, it is advisable to use a Windows server for this, as Microsoft will continue to support the required FrontPage Extensions until July 2015. Read more about FrontPage Extensions on our blog
When Windows Won't Work
If you need to use PHP, CGI, Perl or Python, Linux is a better choice because it's more of an all-rounder. And while WordPress can be installed on a Windows server, it's much wiser to go with Linux because there's far more support and documentation available to help you resolve any problems.
In terms of databases, check with your host to see what they offer. Linux tends to use MySQL, while Windows servers usually run MS SQL (and MS Access, to some degree).
If you know you'll need to SSH into your server, you will need to go with Linux hosting.
Hosting control panels vary from host to host, and we recommend sticking with what you know. If you know how to use Plesk, and you find it productive, you'll find that many Windows hosts support it (as will some Linux hosts). However, if you prefer cPanel and WHM and want to stick with those applications, you must host your site on a Linux machine.
There are some other control panels on Windows servers alongside Plesk. DirectAdmin is one of the more common.
One handy feature of Windows hosting is the ability to use Remote Desktop direct from your Mac or PC to your server. This is normally only allowed on dedicated server plans.
Pros and Cons of Windows Hosting
All web hosts will allow you to get a simple website online. However, we recommend that you choose Linux hosting unless you have a specific reason to choose Windows. Why?
On the plus side, Windows:
- Is easy to use and requires less interaction with the command line
- Is arguably easier to manage and update than Linux, particularly if you're not experienced with hosting
- Supports the specialized scripting languages we've already covered
- Is just as stable as Linux if managed correctly by the host
But beware of Windows hosting if:
- The script you need is written in PHP; it's generally easier to use PHP on Linux boxes
- You don't know your way around WordPress. Support for WordPress on Windows is not easy to come by, and it may require custom configuration
- You want the cheapest shared hosting you can find. Windows is always more expensive, and a few extra bucks will quickly mount up over a monthly subscription
- You want to stay loyal to a particular hosting company. Not all hosts provide Windows hosting
- You need Apache, or a specific Apache module
- You want the flexibility to customize your server
For those willing to pay a little more and tinker a little less, Windows-based hosting provides a stable platform for building robust Internet applications and websites.
Windows Hosting Frequently Asked Questions
Why is Linux hosting more commonly available?
Linux is popular because it's powerful and free. Some of the most popular scripts and applications have been developed for Linux, so over time, it has become the default choice for hosting websites.
If Linux is cheaper, why do people use Windows?
Some websites require a Windows server to function correctly. For example, if someone develops a web application in .NET, they will need to host it on a Windows server.
If you are planning on running your own shared email, calendars, or a contact manager through Microsoft Exchange, you will need to use a Windows server. Depending on your business needs, it might make sense to run everything on a Windows web hosting plan.
But assuming you don't have specialized requirements, there's no reason to choose Windows hosting. For example, software like WordPress or Drupal works best on Linux.
Can I use a Windows computer to host a website?
Yes. Windows has its own server software, and it can be used to publish websites. You can purchase a Windows hosting plan for many hosting providers, but it is less common than Linux hosting.
What kind of hosting can I buy on a Windows server?
Depending on the host, all types of hosting are available, from shared packages right up to dedicated servers.
Which version of Windows do hosts provide?
They all run Windows Server. You'll need to check the plan specifics to see which version of Windows Server they're offering, because all hosts are different.
Can I use cPanel on Windows?
CPanel is not available for Windows, so you'll need to use an alternative control panel. Many hosts offer Plesk, but there are others.
Do I have to pay for Windows when I buy hosting?
The cost of a Windows hosting package includes the cost of a Windows license for your VPS or dedicated server. That's one of the reasons why Windows hosting tends to be more expensive than Linux hosting.
Do I need Windows hosting if I use Windows on my own computer?
No. You can use any hosting plan that you want, providing it supports the scripts or applications that you want to use to build your website. Your own computer's operating system makes no difference.
What's the default web server on Windows?
Microsoft has its own web server, IIS, which runs on the Windows Server operating system.
Does Apache Web Server run on Windows?
Yes. Apache Web Server is available for Windows, although it's less common than IIS.
Why do developers use the .NET framework?
With .NET, you can write web applications in a number of programming languages more typically used in desktop and embedded environments, like C++. Also, .NET’s common language runtime allows a program to be written in multiple languages.
Can I upload files from my Linux or Mac computer to a Windows web server?
Yes. If you just need basic file transfer (using FTP or a variant of it), you can upload files to Windows without any issues. But you'll need a Windows computer to make the most of a Windows hosting account. For example, you can't develop .NET applications on a Linux computer.
Are there any other technologies that are exclusive to Windows?
Microsoft Silverlight can only be deployed on Windows. It's not as popular as it once was, but if you need to use it, you'll need to choose a hosting package that supports it.
Can I use Remote Desktop to manage a Windows Server?
If you have a VPS or dedicated server running Windows, you can usually connect to it using Remote Desktop, just as you would if you were connecting to a regular Windows computer.
If you have a shared hosting account on Windows, you can't use Remote Desktop.
What are the alternatives to Windows server?
If you don't want to use Windows to host your website, you'll probably need to sign up for a Linux hosting package. There are different distributions (Red Hat, Ubuntu, CentOS, etc), but you probably don't need to worry about this unless you have advanced requirements.
It is possible to buy Mac website hosting, although it is very rare. Companies that offer 'Mac friendly' hosting are usually offering Linux hosting with Mac-friendly support.