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Windows Web Hosting: How to Choose

When it comes to technological domination, Microsoft usually comes out on top. However, there is one area of computing where Microsoft does not dominate, and that's the web. Sure, Microsoft managed to outmuscle Netscape in the early browser wars, but by and large, the web has always been, and remains, a thorny venue for Microsoft, one where the boys from Redmond are routinely outfoxed and outmaneuvered by smaller, nimbler and more innovative companies. That said, Microsoft, of course, remains the biggest and most important software company in the world, and it almost totally owns the corporate market. So while there are millions of websites running on open-source Apache, Microsoft's ASP.NET web application development framework is used by a larger developer community to build dynamic websites. Which means that Windows web hosting is an issue for anyone working with ASP.NET.

The generic problem is that it isn't always easy for Windows developers to find a reliable, cost-competitive outfit that supports web hosting and actually knows something about it. Same for smsql hosting. Everyone supports MySQL, PERL and PHP, but far fewer are equipped to properly handle ASP.NET 1.1, 2.0 and 3.5. Maybe that's because open source is free whereas Microsoft products are quite expensive, or maybe it's because it's generally more difficult to find support staff trained in Microsoft's web application model. Be that as it may, it can be hugely frustrating to sign up with a company that claims to support Microsoft's web application framework when they're really just a Perl web hosting outfit.

What separates a company specializing in Windows web hosting from run-of-the-mill hosts? Well, they support, of course, the components common to all web development (like PHP, Perl, MySQL, etc.). However, in addition they must support all major ASP.NET revs as well as provide MS-SQL hosting, with MS-SQL being Microsoft's version of an SQL-based relational database. They offer MS-AJAX support on ASP.NET, and they let you create web directories with unique permissions and authentication levels, and generate application directories from the control panel.

As far as open database connectivity goes, you want to be able to set up DSN-less connections via ODBC use in addition to file-based DSNs. This means a Windows web hosting company should support Paradox, Visual FoxPro, Excel, the Access JET OLEDB, the Microsoft Database and SQL driver, and PostgreSQL on top of the standard MySQL ODBC drivers. You also want to be sure that all of this is not only available, but that tech support is able to assist if you have questions or encounter a problem. There's nothing more frustrating than playing email ping-pong with clueless tech support folks when you have a client project deadline.

Many ASP.NET programmers are still using ASP or manage ASP-based client projects. This means they need specific server object, and the host must support those as well. It gets right back to picking someone familiar with Microsoft's way of doing web business.

What else do you need for good Windows web hosting? The same as you'd look for in any web host: decent equipment, quick tech support response, competitive pricing, and hosting packages that address your needs. Picking the right web host is really like selecting application software - it's got to be right for the job.

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