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by Christopher Heng, thesitewizard.com

New webmasters who are trying to choose a web host often find that they are confronted with a plethora of web hosts offering a wide variety of web hosting packages. Some web hosts give you a choice of packages using the Linux operating system, others FreeBSD, and still others Windows. I am sometimes asked by newcomers whether the operating system of the package matters, and whether they should choose a Linux package or a Windows one. Some tell me that they are using a Mac, and ask whether there is such a thing as a web host offering Mac packages. This article discusses the issues involved, and tries to clear up the confusion that some people have.

The Operating System You’re Using Now is Irrelevant

Let me start by dispelling a common notion among newcomers. Just because you are using Windows or Mac OS X or something else, it does not mean that you need to get a web host that happens to be running the same platform as you are. The system that your web host runs has nothing to do with the system you’re running now. They are two different things altogether. Let me break this down into the two aspects that new webmasters worry about, where this issue is concerned.

  1. It is Neither More Compatible Nor Less Compatible

    Some people are concerned that if they use a system that is different from that of their web host, the two systems will not be “compatible”. This is a needless worry. You are not going to run anything from your computer on your web host’s system, nor is anything from your web host’s system going to run on your own computer. This is true no matter what system you’re using. Things that run on your web host have to be specially crafted to run on a website, and they won’t be the stuff that you run on your home computer.

  2. Neither is it Easier to Use the Same System

    Perhaps you’re thinking to yourself, “I’m familiar with Windows (or Mac) systems, so it’ll be easier to get a Windows (or Mac) web hosting account”. Far from it. Did you think that if your web host uses Windows, you’ll see a nice “Start” menu button that you can click on with your mouse? There are no start menus or anything like that on your web host’s computer, even if it’s a Windows machine. Like all webmasters, you’ll only be able to access your website using a web editor like Dreamweaver or KompoZer, an FTP program, a Secure Shell (SSH) program or your web browser. In other words, the user interface you’re dealing with will be the same for you whichever operating system your web host uses. How easy or hard the user interface is depends on your web editor (etc) which you run on your own computer, and has nothing to do with your web host.

The Real Criteria for Choosing a Web Hosting Platform

The correct criteria to use for deciding whether to go with a Windows web hosting package or a Unix one (such as Linux or FreeBSD) has nothing to do with your current system. Rather, you should decide on the basis on what your website needs.

  • Do You Need ASP or .NET or Microsoft Access or Microsoft SQL Server?

    Basically, the question is, does your website rely on Windows-specific technologies like ASP, or .NET or Microsoft Access, or Microsoft SQL Server (MSSQL)? Note that I’m not asking whether you need these technologies on your own computer, but whether your website has to directly execute ASP or .NET code, or directly access Microsoft Access or MSSQL databases. If so, it’s more convenient to get a Windows web hosting package. Yes, I know that there are ways to use such things on Unix-based systems too, but if you need to use these Windows-specific web technologies, there’re really fewer headaches if you simply use a Windows web host.

    If you don’t understand what I just said in the above paragraph, chances are that you don’t need those things.

  • Do You Need PHP, Perl, WordPress, Blogging Software, MySQL, etc?

    At this point, some of you are probably shaking your heads in bewilderment. All you want is to create a simple website, or a blog, or to sell something. What’s up with all these web jargon anyway?

    For the person just who wants to set up a blog, or sell things with a shopping cart, or just create a straightforward website like thesitewizard.com, and don’t have any special requirements, you might find it easier to use a Unix-based host, that is, a web hosting package that uses a system like Linux or FreeBSD. The majority of free and commercial software that run on websites, be it blogging programs or shopping carts, assume a Unix-based system and run smoothly out-of-the-box on one. Likewise, the majority of tutorials on the web, especially those on configuring your web server, assume that your website is running on a Unix-based system.

    For the person who specifically needs PHP, Perl or a MySQL database, I also think that you will also find it easier if you get a Linux or FreeBSD package. Although PHP, Perl and MySQL can also run on Windows machines, things don’t work quite the same way as they do on the Unix-based systems. As such, PHP/Perl scripts (ie, programs) that you download from the Internet sometimes have to be modified to accomodate the differences of them running under Windows.

    (If you’re wondering what PHP and Perl are, see the article “What are HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP and Perl? Do I Need to Learn Them to Create a Website?”.)

Is There a Mac Web Hosting Package?

I think by the time you reach this paragraph, you’ll probably have realized that you don’t really need to get a web host offering a Mac OS X web hosting package just because you’re using a Mac. For what it’s worth, I don’t know of any web host with Mac packages, and at the time I write this, there aren’t any listed in thefreecountry.com’s directory of budget web hosts. But whether there are such web hosts or not, as I said above, is not important.

Are You Looking for the Right Thing in the Wrong Place?

Ultimately, when designing and publishing your website, the user interface that you’ll be working with most is the web editor (the computer program that lets you design your website). If you get one that doesn’t work the way you’re accustomed to, then you’ll probably struggle to create your website. If you use one that seems intuitive to you, or that does a lot of tedious jobs automatically for you, then you’ll have an easier time. In other words, the “easy-to-use” aspect that newcomers are looking for lies not with your web host’s operating system, but with the tools that you choose to install on your own computer.

If you’re just starting out, I recommend that you read How to Make / Create a Website: The Beginner’s A-Z Guide. It not only mentions the software that you can use for web design, but also lays out all the things you need to do (including stuff that newcomers sometimes overlook), step by step, in layman’s language. With a better understanding of what you need to do and how to do it, the task of designing a website will seem less daunting, and little worries like whether a Linux or Windows or Mac web host is better will (hopefully) be a thing of the past.

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