It is not an easy job to choose the right operating system for your servers. There are plenty of things to consider. What exactly is the purpose of your servers, how many users do you need, and what software you will run? Windows or Linux for your servers is a hard question, but we will make it as easy as possible for you to decide.
What is an Operating System (OS)?
The operating system or OS, is the main software (system software) that communicates with all the hardware (all the components of the device), runs the necessary for the programs’ services, and manages the software resources.
When we are talking about computers, the most popular OSes are Windows, macOS, Linux, and BSD-based OSes.
Depending on what device (PC or server) you choose (its hardware), you can install one of those OSes. The OS will allow you to install compatible programs (applications) that you can use for various purposes like work or fun. The OS also limits you and won’t allow you to run native programs for another OS. To do it, you will need an emulator, that can create an environment for running the particular program. This will reduce the performance since the OS needs to recreate another OS environment and this takes resources (RAM, processing power, etc.).
In short, the OS you choose, Windows or Linux, will give you the opportunity to install and use programs made for it, and at the same time, it won’t allow you to use the programs for the other. It is a really important choice to make.
Open-source vs proprietary software
Linux is an open-source OS. It fully benefits from that. There are big communities that gather around different versions of Linux that are called distros. Popular distros are Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Arch Linux, Fedora Linux, Debian and so on. The developers, that contribute to these Linux distros, can help with questions about the OS, add patches, fix errors, and create new features. That makes the open-source OS, far more open to change in the future.
Let’s not forget that there are many open-source applications that run on Linux, and they are completely free to use. There are programs for office use, creating servers, 3D animation, video and audio editions, and a lot more.
There is a big problem with this too. The openness makes it easier for hackers to understand the code and create a tool for exploiting it. Also, it takes a long time to reach a consensus about new features and bug fixes.
On the other side is the proprietary OS called Windows. Its server version is called Windows Server OS. The latest release is called Windows Server 2022. Before that, you can see Windows Server 2019, Windows Server 2016, and so on.
The Windows Server OS is closed, which means that you cannot see its source code, and it belongs completely to Microsoft (the company that created Windows). You can still use free and paid programs on Windows, but they are not obligated to be open source.
That gives more control to Microsoft, but it limits creativity and development. Only the Microsoft team can fix errors and create official features.
Costs, Windows vs Linux
Windows Server is not a free OS. It has a hefty fee, that is based on the particular server and the number of users that will use the server. It can easily go up to thousands of dollars per year! And that does not include additional software that you may need.
So, if you are on a budget go for a free Linux distro and open-source applications. There are many things you can do on Linux for free and use it for your business. You can also combine paid Linux software with a free OS and have spectacular results.
The only time when you won’t be able to go the Linux route is if you need to use Windows-exclusive software. Then, you don’t have any choice.
Choosing between Windows or Linux is not an easy decision if you carry only about performance. Both OSes have a lot of years. They are mature OSes and provide excellent performance.
Linux will give you more air for fine-tuning the performance, but it could also lead to problems if you don’t know what you are doing. There are some Linux distros that are especially light. They can beat Windows Server in productivity if we are having the same hardware.
Windows is heavier, especially if you interact with the server through a graphical interface, instead of a command prompt like on Linux.
So, talking about performance, a server with a particular light Linux is better, than the same hardware with Windows Server.
Security is the top priority for many modern companies. Both OSes, Windows Server, and Linux are well-secured. Linux gives you more customization in this category. You have a lot of free and paid software, that will add extra security like firewalls, user management tools, antivirus software, data management, and more.
Also, a Linux server can receive faster and more often patches, since many of them are coming directly as support from the community.
There are many distros available, and this can actually help the security. The bad actors have limited time and resources, just like everybody else, so they can’t search vulnerabilities for all of the available Linux distros. That is why some distros can be safer than others.
On the other hand, Microsoft takes more time to release patches and fixes, but they guarantee them. You can be 100% sure that the fix comes from the right source.
Since all of the Windows Server OSes are based on the same code, it is easier for bad actors to attack it.
In the security category, Linux beats Windows, when it is used by professionals who know how to protect correctly their servers.
Support and Updates
Windows Server gets long support – 5 years. The support is given directly from Microsoft. You get also 5 additional years of support with new security patches. So, if we are talking about Windows Server 2022 which was released on the 18th of August 2021, it will receive mainstream support until the 13th of October 2026, and extended support until the 14th of October 2031.
Since the OS is paid, Microsoft is offering a great support
Talking about updates, Linux gets updates far more frequently than Windows. It is easier to update it and get the latest patches. There are many Linux distros with long-term support (LTS) like Ubuntu LTS. Such a distro will receive updates for many years, so you don’t have to worry about support.
And if it is really important for you, you can go for a paid distro like Red Hat distro. The Red Hat company offers very good service and customer support, for a fee. That way you can be calmer, and everything will run smoothly.
Linux has a superior user privilege model. You can define different groups of users and give them access to different applications and files, or the power to install and delete new applications. The control of users and groups on Linux is excellent and it helps administrators organize easily their work.
In Windows, the users can be defined just as administrators or standard users. They are either in full control or very limited. Windows is still behind Linux in this category.
The other big problem of Windows (Windows Server) is that you have a limited number of users. If you want more, you have to change the license and it will cost extra money.
Linux is superior in this category since it is free to add or remove users, the management of users is excellent and there are no limits to the number of users. Linux beats Windows Server in this “Windows or Linux” category.
For example, both Windows and Linux can host websites, but Linux is more commonly used for that purpose. Linux can run PHP, Perl, Python, and Ruby. It uses MySql databases. Many CMS products, such as WordPress and Joomla work exclusively on Linux servers. These servers can be easily accessed from the popular and user-friendly cPanel or Plesk.
On the other hand, Windows servers can be accessed through Plesk too. They use different databases like MS SQL and Microsoft Access and can run different languages – VBScript and ASP.NET. They are suitable for using NET-Applications, SharePoint and Exchange.
• It is open-source and free of charge. That can keep the budget low.
• The system administrator has a lot of freedom. It can easily configure different aspects of the server.
• Less demand for your system. It is lighter to run, so even with a less expensive configuration, you can have good results.
• Good level of security. You can add different software to increase the protection.
• Remote administrator functionality. You can log into the Linux server from a distance.
• It is less user-friendly than Windows. Windows Server comes with a graphical interface, while not all Linux distros for server comes with one.
• There are different distributions of Linux, and some of them can have less support.
• Updating can be complicated. Not always, but some distros are harder to update.
• Some well-known programs don’t run on Linux. Everything that is especially for Windows, or macOS, won’t work on Linux.
• Simpler to use, all of the programs have graphic interfaces. If you have used it on a PC, you will be at least partly familiar with the interface of Windows Server.
• Drivers and updates are regular. They are also easy to perform.
• There are many third-party applications. There is a lot of software for Windows.
• Compatible with Microsoft’s programs.
• It is more expensive. Hard-to-understand price model that can cost a lot.
• More vulnerable to malware. There are a lot of viruses for Windows.
• It needs a lot of resources to run smoothly. Windows is a heavier OS than Linux.
• More possibilities for errors.
Windows vs Linux for your servers
To choose between the two systems for your servers, you should plan first. Think about your business needs, budget, and how many users will use them. Both have advantages and disadvantages and can be used for different purposes.
If you need a server for .NET applications, you use Microsoft SQL, or Microsoft Access go for Windows Server.
In most of the other cases, like PHP programming, Perl, Python, Ruby, or web hosting, go for a Linux server.
Choose the server that best suits you at a great price.