Most web designers can use either Windows-based or Linux-based web hosting systems. There are a couple of advantages to Windows-based hosting, however, which are worth knowing about.
Windows or Linux Hosting?
Web designers selecting a host for their site have to make an important choice. For most designers, a Linux-based hosting system will provide all that they need. However, some designers may want to pay a little more -- typically about $5 per month -- and opt for a Windows-based hosting system.
This will give them access to Microsoft's ASP (Active Server Pages) programming environment, the ability to connect directly with MS Access database files, and -- for users with older versions of Microsoft FrontPage -- a built-in capacity to run the non-standard FrontPage extensions. The benefits of these choices are described below.
ASP vs PHP
ASP is a fully-featured Web scripting language developoed by Microsoft. It is used with the IIS (Internet Information Server) system. Its main rival is PHP (PHP Hypertext Preprocessor) which is an open source language available on both Windows and Linux-based servers. A third option is ColdFusion, developed by Macromedia (now part of Adobe), which is a compiled language. Like ASP, ColdFusion requires the host to licence technology from Adobe, and thus adds to hosting costs. Relatively few ColdFusion hosts are available.
ASP is reported to be somewhat slower than PHP, though the differences for most sites will be minimal. Opinions differ as to which is easier to learn and use. In recent years Microsoft has extended ASP to produce ASP.NET, an object-oriented development environment based on the use of controls and buttons rather than linear programming. ASP.NET can produce compiled code in addition to interpreted scripts. The Microsoft ASP.NET package also includes the Visual.Net Development Environment - a fully-featured programming editor which uses a similar approach to Visual Basic. PHP editors are usually text-based and relatively limited by comparison.
Microsoft Access Database Hosting
Most current Web development rests on a database model: the contents of each web page and information about each site user is stored in a single large database file and updated constantly. When a user requests a web page the page is created on the spot and filled in with information from the database.
This means that the way in which a web site interacts with its database system is crucial. ASP.NET has the edge here, being designed around a database model, but PHP users can catch up to some extent by using the scripting macros and shortcuts built into authoring programs like DreamWeaver.
One definite advantage of ASP is that it supports the use of Microsoft Access database tables, so that a web designer can use the full power of the user-friendly Access program on their own PC to create and modify their web database files, including entry forms and formatted reports, while PHP users are limited to less friendly SQL-based data interfaces.
Until the release of ExpressionWeb in late 2006, the web authoring program in Microsoft's Office suite was FrontPage. Although it never enjoyed the popularity of DreamWeaver, FrontPage sold widely and there are still many web designers using it. In addition to standard HTML code, FrontPage-generated sites could optionally incorporate 'custom code' which would only work on hosts who had paid Microsoft to install its FrontPage Server Extensions.
In the past this was generally limited to Windows-based hosts, but more recently this has extended to include more Linux-based hosts. Although this approach is now doubly obsolete, there may still be a minority of sites which depend on these extensions being installed.