It’s hardly a new debate, but the arguments in favour of either a Linux or Windows operating system are as relevant as ever. While Windows dominates the desktop, Linux is generally preferred in the data centre – seeing around twice as much use as Windows Server.

Despite these differences, it’s not a case of Linux or Windows being better than the other outright, because both offer a range of solutions for various user needs. Of course, Linux does have one obvious advantage: most distributions are available for free. But if you’re already spending money on server hosting, doesn’t it make sense to pay a little extra if your applications will benefit from Windows features?

When it comes to a new server, your choice of OS will most likely come down to the key factors of functionality and usability.

Functionality

For many businesses, web agencies and developers, the choice of operating system is largely decided by the applications they need to run. Obviously, business-critical systems take priority over everything else, so if you want to use software that only works with either Windows or Linux, your mind is made up for you. SharePoint and Exchange will only function on a Windows server, for instance.

But because a lot of popular software is compatible across both operating systems, it’s not always that simple. Often you’ll need to look at the different levels of functionality provided by Linux and Windows to find the optimum solution.What programming language is your preferred software based on? This question is a great place to start. Even with developers trying to build cross-OS solutions, they’ll almost always be designing more from the perspective of one particular platform. For example, PHP can be used on either OS, but generally performs better in a Linux environment. Likewise, Linux is usually the preferred choice for users of Perl, Python and Ruby. Other applications will also tend towards either Linux or Windows, such as MySQL (Linux) and ASP.NET (Windows).Another clear difference between Linux and Windows is that Linux allows its users to edit its source code, while Windows doesn’t allow this level of customisation. Whether this is an advantage or disadvantage of Linux depends on the type of user you are – if you value having full control over your operating system, Linux is your best bet, but the extra flexibility can be too complicated for less experienced users.

Usability

Whoever said ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ wasn’t talking about operating systems – mainly because they hadn’t been invented, but also because people love to get comfortable with a particular piece of software. You’ll probably have a preference for a specific version of either Windows or Linux that you’re already familiar with – and if that OS also provides your required functionality, it could be a done deal.

Users who have only ever known a Windows OS, for example, may forgo a jump to Linux unless absolutely necessary. The time and effort required to learn an unfamiliar operating system is understandably a deciding factor, especially when you’re happy with the feature set of your tried and tested OS.

Windows and Linux typically offer several options for controlling your server which might also influence your choice. Dedicated servers from Fasthosts allow you to use remote desktop to control every aspect of your Windows server, with client software available for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. With our Linux servers, you can use SSH to get direct command line login from your PC. A remote desktop is also possible with Linux via SSH tunnelling.

In the end, your choice of operating system essentially comes down to what you need to do with your server, and how you’re most comfortable doing it. At Fasthosts, we offer a range of the latest Windows versions and Linux distributions, both on our powerful Dedicated Servers and our highly flexible CloudNX platform. If you’re still not sure which server OS is right for you, get in touch with our experts to find out more.