This seems to always pop up as one of the largest debates with just about any server or network utility solution out there. Windows vs Linux, which is better. So, of course, this is going to be a huge focus point for Plex as well.
When installing Plex Media Server, you are given the option to cover just about every single OS available to you. Windows, Mac, Linux, FreeBSD, as well as a number of NAS options for those really looking to have fun.
However, it usually comes down to the top two options. Windows and Linux. It costs far too much to build a Mac solution unless you just so happen to have something powerful laying around that you aren’t using for anything else–or you want to install your server on the main Mac system you use for everything else and keep it running for 24/7. However, when it comes to building something dedicated to Plex and leave it sitting in the corner, it’s usually Windows vs Linux.
We have seen a number of questions develop surrounding this and the answer is usually pretty simple in my experience. It all dials down to user preference and what you are looking for in your server. If you are looking for all of the latest features, or you simply want a solution that works for your typical options and would like to set it up and mostly forget about it unless you absolutely have to play with something.
This is your best option to lean on if you always want the latest features to be supported. Plex is absolutely fantastic at rolling out new features every year. They really do have a great focus on the product’s evolution and listening to their community of users. However, sometimes these new features can be limited to certain platforms or OS environments. When it comes to OS restrictions, we find that Windows is quite commonly where they begin and eventually roll such features to Linux.
An example of this is the new Plex Arcade feature they recently launched. It will eventually reach the other OS environments, but right now it only supports Windows or macOS server installations. There is no telling how long it will take for the option to make its way to Linux. So if this is going to be a concern of yours, Windows is the way to go. MacOS as well, however, sometimes we find Mac can sometimes be second place as well for rollouts. Which leads us back toward Windows.
This is also your best option if you are used to Windows and aren’t so tech-savvy beyond simple Windows operation. Windows is very friendly to all levels of users, where Linux is a bit more complicated and recommended for intermediate or advanced users only.
That being said, we do recommend Windows Server vs Windows 10 since you have more control over things going wrong (like Windows Update suddenly deciding you need to reboot and somehow messes something up). So if you are tech-savvy, but still prefer Windows, then Windows Server might be the best path to take as it will be more reliable. The only drawback is they only officially support up to Windows Server 2012 R2 right now (at the time of this article).
If you are patient, thus aren’t concerned about having the latest features right this very moment (and are tech-savvy), then Linux would be your best option. The disadvantage of using Windows for a service like this is that you are using Windows. Windows is a fantastic OS for the average person for normal day-to-day tasks. However, when you are building a machine you need to rely on when it comes to uptime and performance, it doesn’t always get a trophy. As mentioned, Windows Update is one of your biggest enemies. Ever since Microsoft made it as hard as possible to avoid updates. System reboots without your knowledge can quickly bring services like Plex offline when something goes wrong (which can happen commonly looking back at the last year worth of updates).
Linux, on the other hand, doesn’t share the same troubles (usually). When there is an update available, it will normally offer a pop-up to let you know but it won’t take action unless you tell it to (or unless you enable automatic updates). One of our favorite ports is Ubuntu since it really does make this friendly. It is simply a smoother OS environment when it comes to both uptime and performance. You can drop features completely from the OS or never install them to begin with so that the OS can focus on very specific purposes. Because of this, you have far more control over your system resources. The system will have to be rebooted less often and has less of a chance of suddenly locking up or crashing because of an odd driver updating on the back-end.
Nothing is perfect though. As mentioned, this is a tech-savvy option. So if you don’t title yourself as such, you may want to stay clear of Linux. Where Windows offers plenty of fancy interfaces with buttons and text to walk you through everything, Linux relies a lot on terminal entries (like Windows’s CMD or Powershell window). So you will be spending some time typing commands within a terminal window to configure or update certain options or settings within Linux. This is another reason we like Ubuntu because it does make it a little easier to adapt to coming from an OS like Windows. Yet, you will still find yourself spending a lot of time in terminal windows.
As long as you can get past the tech-savvy requirements, this is usually the very best option to go with. While the latest and greatest features can be nice, or even incredible, system stability and the lessening of general headaches are even more incredible.
So, ultimately, a lot of it comes down to tech-savviness and patience. If you fancy yourself brave and looking to become a little savvier, it can never hurt to install Linux on an old machine to practice and play with. It is a fantastic way to build up your skills and understanding of the complexities of computers and how they operate behind the scenes vs fancy GUI interfaces that do everything for you. Linux can be used in so many ways to build stable environments for various services (ie, Plex, Octopi for 3D printing, PiHole for network-wide ad-blocking, other complex custom firewall solutions, web servers, and more).
If you are tech-savvy, usually Linux is always going to be your best bet. You can build it, configure it, and generally let it sit there until you are ready to update something.
If you prefer to keep things as simple as possible, then Windows will be. You’ll just have to deal with administering it more often to keep Windows Update happy and reboot it from time to time to keep things fresh.
Given, the war between OS environments comes in so many flavors as you can always find other reasons to like one over the other. So feel free to share your own experiences in the comments below. Which do you prefer to use for Plex?