Children of the digital age are used to simple dichotomies. Two different rival franchises tend to develop two separate followings with separate social groups, and nary the two shall meet; commonly remembered is the rivalry of Mac computers and Windows computers. Frequently, the two separate systems would be cited for their specialties and the argument would be dropped. However, the world of the web and its servers have a very different interloper that changes the computer dichotomy significantly–Linux.
Linux is the often-misunderstood operating system that has been slowly gaining steam over the course of more than a decade. It harks back to older days of computing, requiring users to compile everything manually. It is nominally a text-based system, without a graphical user interface, although later versions have eliminated this distinction. It is open-source, and many versions of the Linux operating system can be acquired for free, although there are commercial releases available as well. It has long been thought of as the computer geek’s operating system, something to be used for novelty and street credit. However, it has found a very, very practical niche in the world of web serving.
Microsoft dominates the industry commercially; this is hardly unknown. However, Windows is fraught with security holes, and has been throughout each version, improving only slightly in later releases like Vista and 7. These security issues are commonly accepted as the cost of easy accessibility, compatibility and commonality in the business world, and thus, Windows has remained the most-used operating system. This is growing to be a more paranoid age, though, and one that is much more connected by the World Wide Web. Security holes are not something acceptable to most any user of an e-commerce site, and even the highest-end websites are considered unreliable by many just for the vague idea that their sensitive information might somehow be acquired by the cruel and unscrupulous.
Linux is the answer to these fears, even if fear is not assuaged. Linux machines are infinitely more secure than Windows machines for a variety of reasons, all of which are tied to the very nature of Linux; to break Linux, one must know Linux. This excludes the majority of all opportunists looking for a quick buck from an unsecured system, which covers most all random cybercrime right off the bat. But Linux also carries the distinction of being a very tight, spare system. Whereas Windows is weighed down with usability considerations, Linux is simply pragmatic, casting ease aside completely in the name of raw functionality. As consequence, exploiting a Linux system even with knowledge of Linux takes extensive knowledge, and requires a degree of access that simply isn’t available to even the better cybercriminals. Security is far and away one of the greatest draws that Linux servers possess, whether one is running an e-commerce shop or a message board.
This pragmatism also covers another reason for the slow shift to Linux in the form of efficiency. Server backend software is rarely dealt with directly except for its being set up in the first place. Consequently, the difficulty of use will never actually meet the eye of the user, allowing the webmaster to simply set and forget what is necessary. However, while Linux will function in the background, invisibly, its effects will still be felt in terms of simple speed of use; as the server will run more efficiently, the site will load more cleanly and with fewer errors for users that are passing through, and the busiest days will be able to strain the server to capacity without slowdown for the faithful users.
Linux is gradually overtaking Windows for server architecture for its array of distinct advantages, and will soon become the last word in backend software. Webmasters would do well to familiarize themselves with Linux to the best of their abilities for the good of their sites, their site’s security, their users and their security.