Selecting a Server Operating system
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Selecting a Server Operating system

Usually, Web hosts use either Linux or Microsoft Windows NT Server, but some may let you choose. Selecting a server is more crucial when you are purchasing a machine that will be maintained by your own Web developers, most likely for a collocation setup or if you are going to maintain the website yourself.

Linux vs. NT

Web servers generally fall into one of two categories:

  • Linux-based and
  • Microsoft Windows NT.

Because loyalties within the Internet community are held strongly for both systems, it can be hard to know which is right for you.Linux a clone of Unix, the older and more popular of the two systems, has a strong reputation for reliability and power.


On the other hand, many new to the Web find it difficult to understand and navigate. NT is regarded as easier to use than Linux for data-driven Web sites; it also supports the user-friendly Web page design tools in Microsoft’s FrontPage software.

Which should you choose?

Visitors using any of a host of computer and browser combinations will be able to access your site, regardless of whether you choose a Linux or an NT Server. While there are distinct differences between the two types, this may be the most difficult decision for a novice buyer to make.


If you or your Web developers have a preference, choose the server system with which you feel most comfortable; if you wish to use software on your Web site that can only run on a specific server (e.g. Apache for Linux, IIS for NT) you should choose to locate your Web site using that server.

What is Web server software?

Web server software is the application that runs on your computer and makes Web pages stored on your computer available to Internet users. It also co-ordinates such things as secure e-commerce transactions and streaming audio and video.


Web server software can also be integrated with databases to make information stored in your database available to Internet users.

What are some popular Web server programs?

Unlike operating systems, of which there are fairly few, there are quite a variety of different Web server software packages out there. We’ll look at some pros and cons of each.


Apache lends itself particularly well to projects that are heavily Java based. It offers superior handling of the Java Database Connectivity (JDBC) application program interface (a program which allows Java-based services to access information stored in SQL-compliant databases).

Apache pros:

  • Open source updates. It’s constantly being updated and you can add functionality as it becomes available.
  • Free. The software is free. It’s hard to beat that price.
  • Multi-platform support. Apache can be used on systems that have 80×86-series (i.e. Intel) processors running either Linux or NT as an OS, or on other computers running a Unix-type OS on a different processor.
  • Popular. Apache is the most-used Web server software package in the world. As such, it’s unlikely that further development of the software will ever cease.

Apache cons:

  • No Support. Apache’s developers do not provide any type of support for their product. There are third-party companies that provide Apache support, but you have to pay for it.
  • Runs best on Linux. Given two machines with the same hardware and different operating systems (Linux and NT,) Apache runs faster on the Linux machine. This means that if you decide to go with Apache, you should also use Linux to get maximum performance. If you’ve decided to use NT, it makes more sense to use the Web server Microsoft includes with that OS.

Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS)

Essentially, IIS is the server software of choice if you want to run an ASP-based site.

IS is Microsoft’s main business offering in the Web server software market. Billed as more of an extension of the operating system, it is included on the "Windows NT Option Pack" CD that comes bundled with NT 4.0. As a Windows-based application, it offers the same ease of use as many other Windows applications, including "Wizards" that assist with setup and maintenance of the software.


should be easy for anyone familiar with the NT OS to set up.

IIS really shines when it comes to the handling of Active Server Pages (ASPs), pages that are generated by the Web server software using Active X scripting – usually Visual Basic Script or JavaScript code. IIS offers superior ASP-based interface to ODBC sources like Access and SQL-Server.

IIS Pros:

  • Microsoft product. Since IIS is a Microsoft product, it not only has the same heavy backing as other Microsoft products, but is integrated seamlessly into the OS itself. This means you can do things like drag and drop files into the software for instant availability on the Web with a minimum of hassle.
  • Comes free with NT. If you do decide that NT is the best OS to use, IIS is included in the box.
  • Limits bandwidth. Unlike other server software, IIS has the ability to limit how much bandwidth your web pages have available. Thus, if your ISP charges extra if you use more than a given amount of bandwidth in a month, you can set your Web server to limit itself to using that much bandwidth, saving you from having to pay an extra monthly fee.
  • Crash protection. If one application running on the server crashes, the Web server and other applications continue to run, and the failed application restarts the next time a user requests it.

IIS Cons:

  • Limited to NT-based systems. IIS is not available for use on non-NT systems. This means that if you think a UNIX-based OS is what you’re looking for, you can’t use IIS.
  • Closed source. As with NT, the source code to IIS is.
  • Microsoft’s proprietary information – you can’t get access to it to make changes. This also means that there aren’t many third-party developers working on improving the core software.

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