Most web hosting packages run on Linux servers, and it's easy to see why: the operating system is fast, reliable, secure and free, with an impressive software ecosystem that includes some of the best web applications around.
For all these benefits, Linux won't be the right setup for everyone. If your site is based on Microsoft technologies like ASP.NET or .NET, or you're intending to run Exchange, Microsoft SQL Server or some other Microsoft stack product, you'll need to choose a Windows plan.
Opting for Windows hosting doesn't restrict you to Microsoft products. Most plans offer one-click easy installation of popular apps like WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, PrestaShop, phpBB and more.
There's no cPanel, but something similar (like Plesk) will make it easy to view your website status, create email accounts, tweak settings and generally manage your plan.
Select a VPS or dedicated hosting plan and you'll also be able to use Remote Desktop to manage the server from its own desktop.
Windows hosting has some issues. You won't get the same choice of applications as with Linux. There's less help available for troubleshooting apps like WordPress on the Windows platform. There are Microsoft licence fees to pay, too, so it's a little more expensive than Linux plans.
Overall, though, if you need to take advantage of Microsoft technologies, Windows hosting can deliver a great service for a surprisingly low price. Read on for five top Windows hosting providers you might want to check out first.
- We’ve also rounded up the best overall web hosting services
Windows hosting has a reputation for being costly, but 1&1's shared Windows range shows it doesn't have to be that way.
Prices start at £0.99 ($1.40) a month for the first year, £4.99 ($7) afterwards, yet even the most basic plan is better specified than some of the Linux competition. You get unlimited websites, web space and bandwidth, along with 100 email accounts with 2GB storage each, plus daily backups, 24/7 phone and email support, a free domain and an SSL certificate thrown in.
Windows-specific features include five Microsoft SQL databases of up to 1GB each, ASP.NET 4.6, ASP.NET Ajax and MVC 3, 4 and 5. There's support for SQL import, SSI and dedicated app pools, and your plan will be running on Windows Server 2016 (many hosts are still using 2012).
Ramping up to the top-of-the-range Pro Windows plan gets you 10 times the allocated RAM, 25 databases, unlimited emails, a dedicated IP, regular malware scanning and an integrated Cloudflare-based CDN. Again, this is good value at only £6.99 ($9.80) a month for the first year, £9.99 ($14) afterwards.
These are shared plans and don't give you full control over the server, but more flexible VPS and dedicated plans are also available at very low prices, and opting for Windows instead of Linux will cost from an extra £10 ($14) a month.
Factor in the one-month trial and 1&1 could be a sensible choice for novices looking to try out Windows hosting with the minimum of risk.
A2 Hosting is a capable provider with a huge range of plans covering everything from basic shared products, managed WordPress and email hosting, to reseller plans, cloud VPS and dedicated servers.
A2's Windows offerings include a capable Swift plan priced at $4.90 (£3.50) a month initially, $9.99 (£7.14) on renewal. This is a shared product, but a good one, with unlimited websites, subdomains, email addresses, databases and more. Highlights include free site migration, SSD storage as standard, virus scanning, automatic backups, free Let's Encrypt SSL, Anycast DNS, and Cloudflare Free CDN for a claimed average of 200% faster page loads.
Your site will be hosted on Windows Server 2012, rather than the 2016 release available with some providers, but that's not a significant issue. Windows Server 2016 debuted many new features – Nano Server, containers, ReFS, Linux Secure Boot support – but you won’t be using these capabilities on a shared hosting plan.
What you do get with the Lite plan is support for an array of current and legacy Microsoft products and standards: ASP.NET 2.x, 3.x and 4.x, classic ASP, .NET Core 2.0, ASP.NET MVC 4 or 5, IIS 8.5 and Silverlight 4 or 5. And if your needs are more cross-platform, there's PHP 5.6, 7.0, 7.1 or 7.2 support, phpMyAdmin, and one-click installers for PrestaShop, WordPress, Drupal and more.
If shared hosting isn't enough, A2 also provides managed Windows VPS plans. These are well specified and priced fairly from $36.29 (£26) a month initially, $54.99 (£39) on renewal, which represents decent value for the features and support you get.
While there are plenty of low-cost shared Windows hosting packages around, they're not the best choice for everyone. We suspect that many users who need a Windows website will also require more speed and functionality than the average customer, and budget hosting may not be good enough.
Hostwinds' Windows VPS hosting offers no less than 10 plan configurations, making it much easier to find and purchase the precise level of service you need.
The baseline specification is impressive. Every plan offers free site migrations, SSD storage, and 1Gbps network connectivity (100Mbps is common with other plans). You also get the ability to use Windows Server 2008, 2012 or 2016, along with fast response times for any support issues (30 seconds for chat or phone, 5 minutes for tickets), and 99.999% uptime guaranteed overall.
The starter Tier 1 plan offers relatively limited resources, with one CPU core, 512MB RAM, 20GB disk space and 1TB traffic per month. But it's also good value at $12.74 (£9.10) a month for the first term, $16.99 (£12.15) on renewal. Those prices are for a monthly billing cycle, too – no lengthy contract required.
Upgrading to a higher tier gets you more power. The mid-range Tier 5 plan offers three CPU cores, 6GB RAM, 75GB disk space and 3TB bandwidth, for example, and is priced at $71.24 (£50.90) a month initially, $94.99 (£67.85) a month afterwards.
Optional extras are reasonably priced. You could add cloud backups for $1 (£0.70) a month, for instance, while spending $5 (£3.60) on basic server monitoring will see Hostwinds watch your system and automatically raise a support ticket if it goes down.
Put it all together and these seem well-designed hosting plans which are powerful, configurable, with excellent support and a generous 60-day money-back guarantee. If basic Windows hosting isn't enough, Hostwinds could be worth a try.
Many web hosts provide some level of Windows support, but it's often limited to a specific set of products, such as dedicated servers. That could become an issue if you decide you'd like to upgrade or downgrade your hosting at a later date, so it makes sense to look for hosts which offer more flexibility.
HostGator has a range of Windows plans covering personal and business-friendly shared hosting, and ranging up to highly-specified dedicated servers with the power to run just about anything.
Most of these products are distinctly short on limits and restrictions. The starter Personal plan may only support one website, but you're allowed unlimited subdomains, emails, MySQL and Microsoft SQL Server databases, and unmetered bandwidth and disk space. It’s priced from $3.57 (£2.55) a month if you sign up for the three-year plan, $5.95 (£4.25) on renewal, which is cheaper than the equivalent Linux plans of some providers.
There is a potential downside in HostGator's relatively dated software: Windows Server 2008 R2, IIS 7.5, MSSQL Server 2008 R2 Web Edition, Access Databases 2007, 2010, ASP.NET up to 4.5, PHP 5.2.17 and PHP 5.3. This won't matter to everyone, but check your technical Windows requirements before you sign up.
HostGator's dedicated plans are a little more up-to-date, though still lagging behind some of the competition, with Windows Server 2012 R2, IIS 8.5, SQL Server 2014 Express, and ASP.NET from 2.0 up to 4.6.
Headline prices are reasonable, with the Value Server plans starting from $119 (£85) a month, and occasional special deals as low as $79.99 (£57) for legacy servers. Be sure to carefully check the small print, though – you might have to sign up for three years to get these prices, and large introductory discounts mean that you could pay more than double on renewal.
Liquid Web is a popular provider of high-end professional web hosting services, and its current range includes some very capable Windows products.
The company's Cloud VPS range hosts your web space across multiple devices to improve performance and scalability, delivering what Liquid Web claims is the "fastest managed VPS hosting on the planet". All plans include features that might be chargeable extras elsewhere – unlimited sites, Gigabit transfer, Cloudflare CDN, DDoS attack protection, US or EU hosting – and run Windows Server 2012 or 2016, yet you can still get a capable setup for $99 (£71) a month.
Unusual touches include a choice of SQL Server versions. 2014 or 2016 Express come by default and you can add the Web Editions for $35 (£25) a month, but Standard and Enterprise editions are also available if you need them.
For even more control, you could opt for one of Liquid Web's Private Cloud Servers. These give you all the power of a Cloud Dedicated Server, but also allow for creating, managing and using custom VPS instances (separate virtual servers). You could set up a Windows VPS to run your ASP.NET site, for instance, but also create a Linux VPS instance to run WordPress, another for PrestaShop, maybe a third as a Windows development environment – it's up to you.
Despite all this power, Private Cloud Servers are reasonably priced from only $149 (£106) a month. Even better, there's no long-term contract required, and no leap in costs after an initial discount expires.
Liquid Web may charge a Windows licence fee on top of that, but you'll only pay once per Cloud Server. This allows you to create as many Windows-based VPS instances as you need, at no extra cost.
Interestingly, if you remove all Windows instances then the licence fee will no longer be charged, a handy money-saver for users who only need Windows support occasionally.
Whatever product you choose can be fully managed by Liquid Web's excellent support team, another company highlight. The firm doesn’t just promise to keep your site up and running, there’s a commitment with a 100% uptime SLA (service level agreement), a strong sign of confidence in its services that you rarely see elsewhere.