Although estimates vary, Linux – the most common type of Unix – is generally accepted to have an overwhelming majority over Windows servers. It’s no fluke: Google uses more than 15,000 Linux servers to serve up its content.
Why is Linux so popular when it comes to web hosting?
Linux vs Windows
Linux has struggled to get a foothold in the personal PC market. It has less than 1% of market share.
Hosting customers are sometimes frustrated by Linux; they’ve never used it before, and it’s completely unfamiliar to people who use Windows (and, to some degree, Mac OS X).
However, there are good reasons why your server probably doesn’t run the same OS as your home computer. Here are a few.
Linux Servers Are More Affordable
Linux is an open source operating system. It can be installed for any purpose free of charge.
The same is true for three key pieces of software needed to serve a website:
- Apache, Linux’s leading Web server application
- MySQL, the most prominent database application
- PHP, the most popular scripting language
Large hosts want to push Linux because there are no licensing costs to cover, so they can drop prices and aim for bigger profits. The only thing that needs to be paid for is the control panel tool, if the host chooses to offer one.
The cost angle also applies to hardware. Linux is arguably the best operating system for slower machines. Hosts can use older servers with Linux and get more use out of ageing equipment.
The Industry Preference
As the hosting industry matures, industry standards develop. Robust management and maintenance tools have been developed for Linux servers, making administration easier. Technicians that wanted to work in the hosting industry had to know their way around Linux. Certification systems were set up. Tools like cPanel were developed to hide the operating system from users.
In addition to keeping customers happy, using Linux was just easier for a host. Using the industry standard OS reduced the number of support queries and standardised knowledge and skills amongst personnel.
The Argument For Windows
If Linux is so great, why do some hosts still run Windows? Here are three very good reasons.
- Linux can’t do everything customers need it to do. Applications written in Windows-only languages like .NET or ASP must be run from a Windows server. There’s no getting around it.
- Windows servers can run pretty much anything that a Linux server can run. That makes it a good all-rounder.
- Some companies employ Windows technicians and don’t want to hire extra people just to staff the server room.
The cost savings of Linux are huge, but sometimes there are big practical benefits to Windows that will outweigh the difference in price.
Undecided? Try Linux
Linux tends to be cheaper, and it will give you a consistent experience between hosts. It’s scalable, too, so the smallest shared hosting account will work in a comparable way to a dedicated server.
A few basic commands will get your a long way on Linux, and your host is there to help if you need assistance getting started with a new OS.
Image credit: Paolo Masso.