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Linux vs. Windows: How to Pick the Best Server OS for Your Website

There are many web hosting elements to consider before building a website, including price, bandwidth, storage, and software compatibility. However, one of the most important decisions that you’ll make is whether to go with Linux or Windows Server as the server’s operating system. For most people, Linux is the common server choice; Windows Server is for server admins and companies that need Microsoft’s services. The average blogger won’t experience significant differences between the operating system while writing a hot take, but the stakes are higher for businesses with specific backend needs. If you’re on the fence about the operating system that’ll power your site, this guide will help you make an informed decision.

The Operating System Basics

Not all web hosting services, or their service tiers, offer a choice between the Linux and Windows Server operating systems. For example, if you choose a shared hosting plan, you’re likely stuck with whatever operating system the web host uses by default—typically Linux. Generally, you must sign up for the more expensive and robust virtual private server (VPS) or dedicated hosting offerings to find a Windows Server option. Editors’ Choice award-winning web hosts, such as GoDaddy, HostGator, and 1&1 Ionos, offer Windows-based servers, but many do not. Please note that your choice of a Linux- or Windows-based server does not hinge on your PC’s operating system. If you own a Windows PC, you can use Linux servers just fine, and vice versa. It’s the same situation with macOS. Server operating systems are on the backend, meaning it doesn’t matter how you connect to them from the user side. That said, there are significant reasons why you’d want to go with either Linux or Windows as your website’s foundation. Let’s explore them.

Decide How Much Money You Want to Spend

Linux is a free, open-source OS that comes in many flavors. It’s also simpler to maintain, requiring less upkeep and fewer man-hours. Windows Server, on the other hand, is owned by Microsoft, so web hosting services license it from Redmond. Hosting providers tend to pass those additional costs onto users.

Take GoDaddy, as an example. Its self-managed, Linux-based VPS tier starts at $29.99 per month (for a month-to-month plan), while its Windows-based counterpart costs $34.99 per month. Ionos’ second-tier, VPS M plan is $7 per month, but switching to a Windows Server plan adds $20 to the price tag. That price premium can disappear among the most expensive, dedicated hosting services, but that extra cash per month can add up in the lower and mid-tiers. If you’re looking to save money, it’s best to go with Linux. That said, you may feel the extra cost is necessary if you plan to leverage Windows Server-specific features.

Know the Software You Want to Use

As mentioned earlier, your operating system selection determines the software you’ll use to build and update a website. For example, WordPress is far easier to install and use on Linux servers, as it’s powered by the PHP scripting language and MySQL database service (you can get them running on Windows servers, but most service providers don’t bother). The popular server backend, cPanel, which you may be familiar with if you’ve built a website, runs on Linux, too. In addition, Linux hosting usually offers easier access to site-creation tools, such as HTTP web server Apache, the Python and Perl programming languages, and the Node.JS JavaScript environments.

In contrast, Windows Server runs services created and maintained by Microsoft. If you’re developing web applications, you’ll want to use the .NET framework that is only available on Windows Server. If your website will be built using ASP.NET or Microsoft’s version of SQL, you’ll need Windows Servers, too. The other Windows Server-only programs that you might encounter include C#, Microsoft Access, Microsoft SharePoint, and Remote Desktop. If you’re just starting your web hosting journey, you’d do well to stick with Linux. Windows Server is a good option for experienced developers and large organizations.

Learn the OS Security and Management Differences

When it comes to overall stability, Linux is the elder statesman. It’s been used as a web server foundation for a long time, and its open-source nature means that many talented people contribute to it. Compared to Windows Server, Linux handles more functions without issue and doesn’t require reboots nearly as often. That’s because Linux doesn’t have memory leaks in the same fashion as Windows Server and only needs to reboot when there’s a kernel update.

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