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Operating Systems and Hosting

The operating system (OS) is the most essential and is the base of any computer system it is like a heart in the body. The operating system extends the interface between the software programs or applications used by end users and the underlying hardware.

Operating systems, and their component pieces (drivers) provide an abstraction layer between hardware and software which in turn allows the same application to be deployed/run on various types of hardware.

All the computer systems come with an operating system in it which makes the computer interact with the user with help of hardware. It is not only desktops and server, but some other devices e.g. smart phones, tablets, media devices, embedded hardware systems consumer gadgets etc. all come with an OS in it.

Operating sustems

Should my hosting server be the same as the OS on my computer?

For majority of the users, it will not be the case that you will need to select your server’s operating system in order to match your local machine. Many factors can explain this:

- Majority of the customers using web hosting wont be needing to run the website software on a local computer.

- The most common website applications — CMSes like WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal — are cross platform which means they can run on any of the operating system.

- It does not require any special training or coding requirement in order to interact with web hosting account server as it will be browser based control panel.

- And interaction which ae not browser based will be through platform related tools such as FTP & SSH.

It might be the case that you are running Windows server and the possible reason for the same could be to take some benefits of any specific business requirement or any application. This could require an additional windows specific software on your local machine.

Another reason that you may need to have local software as hosting is if you are developing a new application as you may need to perform test in order to test the application and be familiar with the hosting server OS. This however is not applicable to people using platform independent applications such as Wordpress, Drupal even if you are developing any new plugin of themes for such applications using a local computer.

OSs Available for Web Hosting

Although there is a large no. of OS available yet not all of them are used widely and you wont find them in most of the web hosting plans.

When you are going for Shared Hosting plans you don’t have the option of choosing the operating system and it is always Linux. Some VPNs will provide you with an option to choose from various Linux distributions and some may also provide you with Wndows Server as well however for an additional fee.

When you are going for VPNs or dedicated server plans then you have the freedom of deploying operating system of your own choice be it Windows server or any version of Linux.

Unix-Based operating systems

Unix has been one of the 1st operating systems, and despite the fact that it was developed in the middle of the 20th century, the core conceptual features and architecture developed for it, have been followed by its followers which are based on Unix.

Some of the features as per the architecture include modularity of design, handling multiple users and clock based time sharing. Due to these only features Unix based operating systems are well suited to server applications where multiple users may be running independent applications or accessing the website. Facebook is one of the good example of such application which is being used by billions of uses across the world at the same time.

Linux is also called GNU/Linux due to the contribution of the Free Software Foundation’s GNU project in its development.

The operating system Linux was designed and developed to be Free and Open Source alternate to Unix. The development of Linux was undertaken by Linus Torvalds in the early 1990s. Later on it got merged with GNU project as it also had the same objective and then it became full fledged operating system and a popular one.

Due to some of the its inherent features such being free and open source it has become good option for academic use, the very same reason has initiated further Linux development. At present, it has become widely used operating system across the globe. And vast majority of servers and mainframe computers are Linux based only.

Linux is highly modular and it requires a small piece of software which handles main hardware functions such as memory allocation and CPU time sharing, it is called kernel which is the key of the operating system. Apart from kernel all other functions related to operating systems such as file storage to GUI (graphical user interface) to device drivers, are separate codes of software. Due to the same modularity function it has allowed the development of various distributions of Linux where one can approach for implementation of Key OS features.

Distributions all termed as “distros” which are commonly used for web hosting servers involve:

- CentOS

- Debian

- Fedora

- Gentoo

- Red Hat

- Slackware

- Ubuntu

Dissimilarities between various Linux servers

If you are not using a VPS or dedicated web hosting plan, then it you wont be able to see any change or any difference as what is running behind the scene. Most of the time your interaction will be with the control panel so in such case it wont look any different as what Linux Distro is running. Some of the distros provide or extend certains benefits such as performance, management & support etc.

- CentOS and RedHat receive less updates so if you are running your own server then both thee provide more stability and support. And since RedHat is a commercial software so you will have to pay license fee as well in order to be using it.

- CentOS is the said to be the free version of RedHat, and is also a thoroughly-tested, solid Operating System. Debian demands more regular updates and provides multiple packages but the support level that you receive is not upto the mark.

- Ubuntu has been considered to be the most user friendly and is widely used Linux distribution and is well suited for a person who is starting new with Linux.

- Fedora has been found to be more focused on enterprise applications and requires updates with the latest software packages. The popularity of Fedora is also not that much so it hardly comes with pre-installed packages.

- BSDs — also known as Berkeley Software Distribution. It was primarily derived from the Unix and was developed at the University of California Berkeley. It was based on the original Unix code from Bell Labs in the 1970s. The active development for original BSD has not been there since 1990 however operating system based on BSD have been in use at large scale.

- Mac OS X— The MAC OS has been derived from the original BSD. It can be used for web servers however it has hardly been the case.

- OpenBSDs— An Open Source BSD has been derived from BSD which is largely focused on security. This is primarily used for used for mail servers and firewall servers. It has not been used by web hosting providers for main accounts.

Windows Server

As mentioned earlier as well in one of the posts that Windows Server operating system is used primarily for business oriented and enterprise needs web applications, such as productivity, collaboration, and ERP softwares. Although it can be used for other applications such as ecommerce websites or any content based website but it does not make any sense to pay extra for using such services which you can get for free so why to pay for it. Due to this reason most of the web hosting companies use Linux as a default OS and not the window server OS. And companies offering such services charge extra for it as web hosting companies have to pay license fees.

There have been three major releases for Windows Server till now.

- Windows 2003

- Windows 2008

- Windows 2012

More on Operating Systems and Web Hosting

How to choose an Operating System?

It has been mentioned earlier as well that Unix & Linux have been the mostly used and are ideal option as web servers as these were designed to handle multiple users and applications at the same time. Having said that, these are not the reasons only which makes Linux so popular across the Globe. The most apparent and obvious reason is costing which in free as there is no licensing fee here to pay.

Since Linux is an Open source platform so it makes it easier for you to be customised or write new code for the same. And as we spoke earlier that it is modular in structure so you can deploy on piece which is t be used. This in turn allows to use your resources efficiently and hence improve the overall performance.

When you are developing business oriented or enterprise applications (specifically the applications which are meant to be used by Windows OS users) it makes sense for you to go for Windows server only as it has been built and designed to cater to such applications. In addition to this if you have visual studios or .net server for hosting in order to start the development, you will require Windows server to serve the purpose.

In addition, Windows being a commercial OS the level of the support that you will provided with will be at different level which is good for your business. Apart from this if you are new or have no experience handling Linux based machine then windows is the best option to go for your applications as it will provide you with well known familiar interface which you are comfortable with. Hence making this simpler and you will not have to try harder to understand complicated systems such as Linux etc. So if you are comfortable paying the extra license cost Windows is the best option for and additionally all modern applications can be run on Windows or Linux machines.

Is it hard hard is it to switch to another OS server if I am already running with one?

Since most of the Linux based server are originated from the root Linux so they share the same file structure and all of them are compatible with Linux software. So there will not be any loss of data and you can move your data easily with much hassle.

However, before you proceed with the change you need to make sure with the hosting company if the changes are well supported and you nee to take the backup of all your files/data etc.

On the other hand, when you are making a switch from Linux to another type of OS or Windows then the file structure will be different, the database structure will also be different. So the transition for cross OS will somehow not be a simple task so you need to handle it with precaution. You will need to get in touch with your host as they will be able to assist you with the switch. If you are using any popular application such as Wordpress or drupal you will have enough of guides and material as how you can make the transition smooth and how to resole issues if any arises.

As last note, please make sure to take full backup of all your data including server files, DB files etc. before you proceed with any switch as anything may go wrong even if you are doing everything right. So you have to be well prepared before you make a shift.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there web hosting companies which offer Mac OS servers, and why do anyone use it?

There are quite a few web hosting companies that offer such service. The reason of going for such option that you may be developing applications that are only for MAC OS or iOS.

A Mac OS host comes in handy or is useful when you have different people in the team whio share development or share the development space.

Do blogging platform like WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal work differently on a Windows as well as Linux?

As mentioned earlier as well that all these platforms are independent of the web server OS being used and all these are browser based application so you get to see the same interface irrespective of the Web server OS running behind it.