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 thing 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.
Linux or Windows Hosting Platform?
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.
Most low-cost hosting is provided on Linux servers, but a Linux set-up isn't suitable for everyone.
If you designed (or plan to 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.
The top reasons to choose Windows over Linux hosting are:
- You are using a programming language/database Linux doesn't support
- You aren't looking for the cheapest option, you prefer more control
- You want to be able to use Remote Desktop to access your server
- You are using .NET framework
- You don't like cPanel
The table below offers a quick break down of which hosting server you should choose, based on your needs. I will go into greater detail below.
Which Hosting Server is Right for You?
|If you want:||Then Choose This Type of Hosting:|
|The cheapest option||Linux|
|To use ASP or .NET||Windows|
|To use Sharepoint||Windows|
|To use MS SQL or MS Access||Windows|
|To use PHP, CGI, Perl or Python||Linux|
|To use Plesk||Linux/Windows|
|To use cPanel and WHM||Linux|
|To easily use WordPress||Linux*|
|To use Apache or a specific Apache module||Linux|
* Windows hosting does support WordPress, but it is easier to use on Linux.
When to Choose Windows Hosting over Linux
The majority of the world's websites are hosted on Linux servers. 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) or ASP.NET.
You will also need a Windows server if you're working with Visual Basic (VB).
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.
FrontPage or SQL
It is very difficult (if not impossible) to find a web host that supports FrontPage extensions. Microsoft no longer supports FrontPage Extensions as of July 2015. (More on FrontPage.)
MS Access and MS SQL
If you are using an MS Access database or, if you are an MS SQL Server user, Windows hosting is the right service for you.
When Windows Hosting 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 of the large amount of support and documentation available to help you resolve problems.
Regarding 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.
How Does the Cost of Windows Hosting Compare to Linux Hosting?
If you're new to web development, you might be reading this page because you're a little intimidated by Linux. It sounds foreign and technical, and you've always used Windows. It likely feels safer and more familiar.
When it comes to hosting, however, there really isn't a big difference because you're not using a desktop interface anyways, just a control panel.
But one big difference that may influence your decision is cost.
As a general rule, Windows hosting is always more expensive, just because hosts need to purchase licenses for Windows software.
What About Shared Windows Hosting Prices?
For shared hosting, the cost difference is pretty small between Windows and Linux services. However, if you're looking for higher performance, like a VPS or dedicated server, many hosts (although not all) charge a significant amount more for Windows hosting.
In any case, Linux hosting for a comparable service will rarely be more expensive.
With performance and cost being better for Linux hosting, the only clear reason for sticking with Windows hosting is software requirements, which were outlined above.
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.
Plesk Control Panel
The Plesk control panel is very good, and some prefer it to cPanel and WHM even when they have the choice.
Plesk combines both site and server management into one simple product, versus having to have two separate logins (cPanel for sites, and WHM for servers) to manage your hosting.
The Plesk dashboard presents a clean user interface.
There are some other control panels on Windows servers alongside Plesk. DirectAdmin is another option you might see, but it's nowhere near as 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?
Pros of Windows Hosting:
- Is easy to use and requires less interaction with the command line
- Is arguably easier to manage and update than Linux
- 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
- You don't know your way around WordPress. Support for WordPress on Windows may require custom configuration
- You want the cheapest shared hosting you can find.
- You want to stay loyal to a particular hosting company that doesn't offer 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.
Find The Best Windows Hosting For You
My Top Three Hosts for Windows
Not sure where to start your hosting research? The tool above makes it simple to search dozens of hosts based on your specific needs. Or, you can start your research with the top three hosts I have selected for Windows hosting.
A2 Hosting offers both Linux and Windows for all plans, including shared hosting, VPS hosting, and dedicated server plans. The Windows plans are quite a bit more expensive than their counterparts.
Most plans -- even shared services -- come with a free SSL certificate and use SSD storage for faster speed. All plans come with access to a standard Plesk control panel to manage your websites.
If you're looking to save as much money as possible, GoDaddy is a decent option. They offer three low-cost shared Windows hosting plans.
These plans come with a free domain and Microsoft Office Business e-mail account for a year. Again, you'll have access to a Plesk control panel to easily install popular CMSs.
Liquid Web is the host provider to go with if you're looking for high performance or the best support possible. They offer the choice between Windows and Linux servers, on cloud, VPS, or dedicated server plans.
Liquid Web is best known for their 24/7/365 "heroic" support, with a 100% power uptime guarantee. Their services are also managed, which means their servers are equipped with anti-virus software, and their security team makes sure your servers are secure.
Recommended Reading and Resources
A single-stop reference point for finding the best ASP.NET hosts. Our interactive compare tools will help you make a good choice quickly.
Most hosts do not support MS SQL. How do you find a good host? What should you look for? Our veteran software engineer has the answers.
Support for ASP is expected to continue into 2020. Our guide will save you time and help you find solid hosting options.
Helpful background, history, and details on FrontPage, plus good alternatives to consider.
An interesting overview of the history of IIS 7 and the modern .NET framework. Plus technical guidance on hosting. Written by a highly experienced software engineer.
Here's What Your Windows Hosting Needs To Offer
Great Windows hosting providers offer plans that support all of the Windows technology you might use: ASP and the .NET framework, MSSQL databases, the ability to hook into Sharepoint and Exchange, and support for languages like ColdFusion and C#. In addition, the technical support team needs to have Windows server expertise. A2 Hosting has our recommendation as a great Windows hosting provider.
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.