What Is Windows Hosting?
As the name suggests, Windows hosting is hosting on a server that runs on Windows. Server-ready versions of Windows fall under the brand name “Windows Server” and are most commonly used for hosting.
That’s pretty much all there is to it—it is hosting that runs on Windows. What’s more important is what you can do with it.
For starters, Windows Server hosting is a beginner-friendly entry point into server management.
If you’ve ever used a PC running Windows, you’re already familiar with the layout. Windows Server’s graphical interface is similar to that of standard Windows. There is a learning curve to managing it, but you get a smooth start.
After you set up the OS, you can use your Windows-based server for a variety of purposes. A popular one is website hosting.
ASP.NET is employed for building websites on a hosted Windows server. It is a flexible server-side framework that creates dynamic web applications.
The framework is easy to use and combines a variety of programming languages. You can create compiled apps with pretty lean code. This usually gives it a slight speed advantage over interpreted languages like PHP.
ASP.NET has other things going for it as well. It offers built-in caching, configuration information, and security protocols, among a host of other features.
There are a number of other technologies designed to run on Windows, like Microsoft SQL. Windows is a native environment for an impressive toolkit of web development technologies.
As Microsoft adds more and more functionality into Windows Server, using it as a website hosting OS is becoming increasingly attractive.
Still, it’s not all about website hosting—application hosting on a Windows server sees plenty of use within organizations.
Windows Special Features
Windows offers a solid foundation for website hosting. Take the OS to a corporate environment, though, and it becomes a real rock star.
Windows Server has more than a few exclusive technologies and features, intended to help organizations. These make it a lifeline for tens of thousands of companies, charities, non-governmental organizations—you name it.
Let’s cover a few of the prominent uses for a Windows-based server in this context.
Windows Exchange Server
Most companies start their emailing operations with something basic, like POP3 email hosting. This is usually just a small email inbox you use to download emails onto your computer.
After a while, though, running such email accounts for numerous employees can prove quite restrictive and, even worse, unreliable. So why not use a Windows hosting service to set up your own email server?
This is where Windows Exchange Server comes in. It is a top-notch mailing and calendaring software that works on top of Windows Server.
You can use it to let users store, send, and receive emails. Plus, you can set up custom rules to ensure no emails get misplaced or accidentally deleted beyond restore.
The software makes it easy to manage an entire emailing operation.
For instance, you can assign different amounts of resources to different users. So, those, whose job heavily relies on emailing—like salespeople—can get larger email inboxes. Those who only send a few emails here and there can get smaller inboxes, which saves server resources.
The solution also includes performance optimization, security measures, as well as a bunch of other advanced features.
Windows Exchange Server is a robust solution and one of the best pieces of software of its kind. It’s one of the best reasons for companies to go with a Windows Server host.
If you’ve ever been a part of a group project in high school, you know getting three people to cooperate is difficult. Working with five, though, is downright impossible.
Then there are organizations tasked with getting dozens, or even hundreds, of members to work together. In such cases, you need all the help you can get, or it can get tough.
SharePoint can ease your burden here.
It helps organize workflow, keep all documents in one place, and let people easily access and collaborate on projects. Everything happens on the server—no more employees running around with flash drives; no accidentally deleted files; no nonsense.
Thousands of companies—especially mid-sized and large ones—get a Windows Server rental just to run SharePoint.
Admittedly, it’s tough to explain SharePoint in just a few sentences. The solution simply offers that many possibilities. It’s essentially a set of a bunch of different software (something like MS Office) that help large organizations, well, organize their projects.
For starters, it has much more wholesome file management than the traditional folder system. You can keep all company files in one, easily accessible place. More importantly, SharePoint ensures you won’t lose files due to someone deleting or renaming them.
Once you rent a Windows server and set everything up, employees can access the files they need from their own computers, update or change them, make suggestions, work on files simultaneously, etc. The list of features for making your organization more efficient goes on and on.
Users can also communicate with each other through SharePoint. You can set up a newsfeed for the whole organization, or even make a wiki or a knowledge base to serve as a reference point when completing tasks.
All in all, SharePoint is a brilliant solution if you’re working on projects that require collaboration—especially if some organization members are working remotely. It’s one of the best Windows hosting technologies for organizations of all sizes.
Most organizations that use computers can benefit from a computer network. It can just make it easier to conduct business, even if you don’t need something specific like Exchange Server or SharePoint.
Windows is the go-to solution here. You can easily deploy a client/server network and let connected users enjoy all its benefits.
The more recent iterations of Windows Server come packed with features that help you deploy a reliable network. These include (but are not limited to) firewall software, remote access, network load balancing (if you are hosting Windows on multiple servers), VPN features, directory service, and much, much more.
Perhaps you are running a company and would like to restrict access to sensitive information. Windows makes it beyond easy to create custom roles for employees and assign them different levels of clearance for accessing and manipulating files.
It’s handy for letting dozens (or even hundreds) of employees share a network.
Admittedly, networking capabilities are not exclusive to Windows Server. If you want to connect five computers in an office, it shouldn’t be too difficult with just about any operating system.
As you add more computers to the network, though, you’ll begin to appreciate how Windows makes administration easier. It is a fantastically powerful and scalable solution, and it dramatically reduces the strain on any IT team. It’s excellent for any medium or large organization.
Windows v Linux—Who Wins?
Windows hosting vs. Linux hosting is an eternal debate, and it’s tough to talk about one without comparing it to the other.
Both platforms have their fair share of fervent supporters. Still, Linux is definitely more popular and is currently the gold standard in website hosting.
That said, this isn’t a popularity contest. Realistically speaking, both platforms have their merits. Here’s what they’re all about.
Ease of Use
A commonly cited advantage of Windows hosting is that it’s more straightforward. There’s some truth to this, but it shouldn’t be taken as absolute.
In reality, the easiest OS to use is the one you’re already familiar with. Linux might seem complicated, but there’s no faster way to frustrate a Linux admin than to put them in front of Windows.
The thing is, most users are already used to Windows through their home computers. Few non-technical users run a Linux command line at home. Windows just lets you transition into hosting more easily.
There is one respect in which Windows is definitely easier than Linux, and that is the setup. Windows does a much better job of laying out all the options and assisting you to choose what you need.
With Linux, you sort of have to build solutions from the ground up. This takes more effort and knowhow but gives you much more flexibility and lets you create leaner solutions.
Although Windows gives you some wiggle room too, you’ll often end up with features you’re not really using. It’s just the reality with even the best Windows servers.
So, Windows is more streamlined, but Linux offers greater flexibility.
This ties in with the previous point.
Linux-based servers usually run CLI. You could set up a graphical interface, but it’s usually more trouble than it’s worth.
Admittedly, working in a command line can be intimidating. It’s what puts off most newcomers.
Windows web services, however, let you choose between a GUI and CLI. The graphical interface is similar to that of the desktop OS, so it doesn’t take much adjustment.
That said, even if you start with GUI, it would be wise to get familiar with the command line. Aside from being an instrumental skill for server administrators, running a CLI can dramatically reduce server overhead. You won’t need as much server resources for running the same apps.
Having a broader choice is always better, so Windows takes this one. Although running a GUI is a viable option, though, you should get acquainted with CLI if you’re serious about server administration.
Many resources (some even published in 2022) name Linux-specific technologies like PHP and Windows-specific ones, like ASP.NET and MSSQL.
In reality, the lines between the two platforms are now blurred, at least in some respect. You can now get both Linux and Windows ASP.NET hosting, and you can set up a PHP-based platform like WordPress on both types of OS.
Still, the technologies are often much easier to implement and work better in their native environments.
Windows, then, is the default choice for ASP.NET. Still, it’s useful to know you can run it on Linux as well.
Likewise, Linux is intended for many of the most popular PHP-based CMSs. These include WordPress, Joomla, Magento, and dozens, if not hundreds, of others.
It also has a wider choice of web hosting control panels, including the most popular one—cPanel. Arguably the best Windows hosting control panel is Plesk, which can also run on Linux.
While this makes Linux more popular for website hosting, Windows is definitely preferred in a corporate setting. It offers fantastic exclusive technologies like SharePoint and Exchange Server that do wonders for businesses and organizations. You can read more about them above.
There are open-source alternatives that you can run on Linux, but they just fade in comparison to Windows’ functionality.
We advise against bringing this one up while both Windows and Linux fans are present.
There’s a lot to be said about the security features and pitfalls of both types of OS. Not only that, but both are very secure in the right hands.
That said, most potentially unwanted applications are written for Windows, and Windows falls prey to malware much more often.
Take what happened to A2 Hosting. It used to be regarded as the best Windows web hosting provider until a ransomware attack completely devastated its Windows operation.
Now, this isn’t meant to scare you. Windows solutions are still safe, as long as you handle security properly. Linux does have a slight advantage, though.
Linux distributions are generally more reliable than Windows Server.
This simply means Windows requires a reboot here and there. This is especially the case if you run complex apps with multiple databases.
Linux, on the other hand, lets you install and uninstall stuff, do updates, and make a huge mess, and can still run for years without a reboot.
It’s not that Windows is unstable. Microsoft made significant improvements over the years, so you’ll usually just reboot to install major updates. It’s just that Linux is ridiculously reliable.
Availability is not much of an issue with businesses, especially ones that run nine to five. You can just reboot the server at the end of the workday without trouble.
With website hosting, you need maximum availability, which can spell trouble for Windows. If you’re looking for a Windows web host, it’s best to find one with a solid uptime guarantee.
Most Linux distributions are open-source, which is tough to beat.
Windows Server is a licensed solution. This brings up the price of hosting it, compared to Linux.
It all depends on the hosting platform and the technology you need. Windows Server web hosting can cost anywhere from a few bucks with shared hosting to a few hundred bucks more expensive.
Paying for the license has its benefits, though. It means Microsoft is much more consistent with OS updates, and you can actually get technical support from its team.
With free Linux distributions, you rely on your own resources and potentially your hosting provider. This is usually more than enough, but having extra help hurt nobody.
Linux is definitely the more affordable solution. Windows can get pricey, especially if you need a data center license. You do get some level of insurance with security updates and professional support, however.
What to Choose—Windows or Linux?
There’s no clear winner. As with everything in hosting, the right option for you depends on your needs.
A Windows-based server is definitely more approachable to beginner server admins. Setting everything up is straightforward, so you can ease yourself into the role.
There is a learning curve to both Windows and Linux, though. You should be prepared for some intensive learning.
Windows is also a prime choice if you are in a corporate environment. It makes it a breeze to manage even large networks. Additionally, it offers a variety of software like SharePoint and Exchange Server that are invaluable for boosting efficiency.
Linux is usually the top choice for website hosting, though. The added reliability is excellent here, as uptime has a massive impact on a website’s success. It is also less prone to attacks, which is also one of the key web hosting factors, especially if you run an online store.
Linux is the native environment for popular CMSs like WordPress and Magento, as well as cPanel. Microsoft is slowly adapting its own OS to these, but Linux is still the top option.
Windows-based web hosting is more of a specialty choice for developers who want to run Microsoft’s apps.
Final verdict—Windows is definitely the top choice for businesses and organizations looking to boost their efficiency. It’s also a more user-friendly Linux alternative and comes with technical support from Microsoft.
Linux is free and is the go-to option for hosting web applications. Windows is an alright choice here if you want something like web hosting with ASP.NET or MSSQL, but about 95% of non-technical users prefer Linux.
It’s a good idea to think about what you need and how much you can spend, and only then pick a platform that suits you.
That wraps up the reviews of the best Windows hosting companies. You now know who the top providers are, what Windows is best for, and how it compares against its top competitor.
If you feel Windows Server might be the platform for you, take one of the providers for a spin and see what it can do.