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Microsoft hone their Windows Home Server

an image of the Microsoft logoJust as Apple role out their Apple TV set-top box, Microsoft busy themselves with a similar, if not more wide-reaching and wide-ranging product. Enter the Windows Home Server.

Now, I’ve never been a big fan of Microsoft’s naming convention, or a fan of Microsoft full stop – with the exception of Microsoft Office for Mac, which has cast quite a long shadow across it’s Windows brethren for long enough – but having read through what the Windows Home Server purports to perform, it’s looking quite a sweet deal, and make no mistake.

When I first wrote this article, I did so without reading the excellent-as-ever run-down by Ars Technica:

“Much of what we predicted about Home Server is true. It’s all about centralization and ease of use, and it’s targeted at users who want an easy way to back up all of the important data in their house. It’s built using a mix of new and not-new server technology, but whereas we previously believed it was based on a client OS, Windows Home Server is in fact based off of Windows Server 2003.”

This article changed my opinion somewhat. My first blush wasn’t too kind:

“Which sort of begs the question, will there be a Microsoft Windows Home Server Home Edition, and a Microsoft Windows Home Server Professional Edition? OK, jokes aside, this product just doesn’t inspire me.”

Hmm .. quite.

Windows Home Server offers some very nice, very slick features, albeit features that could prove a little complex for home users. So I do hope that Microsoft hide this complexity behind suitably big buttons, and not too many of them, either:

“There’s the obvious stuff you’d expect to find in a ‘Home Server,’ like securable file and print sharing that you can centrally manage.

There’s also a fairly robust centralized backup system which will track ‘previous versions’ of files that have changed or have been deleted. Users can opt to store data directly on the server, or the server can be configured to do periodic backups of local machines.

Windows Home Server supports disaster recovery functions, including scheduled snapshots of client systems that can be fully restored by booting off of a CD that connects to Windows Home Server. This is a killer feature because it obviates the need for all kinds of tech support stemming from a spyware infestation or a hardware install gone bad.”

OK, I’m warming to this, but it gets better:

“One item worth noting is that the file sharing is handled via SMB, meaning that Linux and Mac clients can use Windows Home Server. In fact, you can even back up these clients by having them store their own backup images on the server.”

That’s the kind of “play nice” stuff we’re starting to see more of from Microsoft, which isn’t a bad thing. And me being able to hook up my Mac to something like this is highly welcome, made even simpler by the web-based management system, removing the need for a Windows PC.

On the downside

Yes, yes, I know. But this is Microsoft, and invariably their concept of simplicity is a robotic coffee machine .. or something like that!

Now, I will confess to be being an Apple guy through & through, but the recipe for my tastes is quite simple: Apple makes stuff that just works, Microsoft invariably don’t.

My nephew has the new Xbox 360, which has this annoying habit of just restarting for no reason. Sound familiar?

Any IT person of 2 years or more experience will regale you with perilous tales of ‘unscheduled restarts’ for nothing more than as single malt Whiskey and the comfort of a quiet, dark corner of a public ale house.

“’Home Server’ has been ‘coming’ since early 2005, called by various code names such as Quattro. The rumors from years past focused on centralized storage, and for good reason. As the number of computers in a home increase, the need for centralized storage increases as well.”

Might the Apple iTV not have hastened things a little? I’d say so.

But what we don’t want is Microsoft rushing a product. Their products are hardly a tour de force as it is, without them rushing a product to market. So what’s the thinking behind Windows Home Server?

“Centralized storage also dovetails nicely with Microsoft’s entertainment strategy, which includes using the Xbox 360 as a video and music entertainment device that both connects to the TV and talks over the network to other Windows boxes. Microsoft would love for users to be able to buy loads of content (from them) to stream throughout the house, especially if users fully buy into the Vista + Xbox 360 + Home Server equation.”

Run that by me again, please.

So we have the Xbox, right. Isn’t that supposed to come with it’s own option for extra storage? Then we have Windows Media Center Edition PC, which has it’s own thing going on. So where’s the ‘dovetail’ exactly? Sounds more like overlap to me!

Worse still, if you look at this through the eyes of Microsoft – that being the hope of selling this into households that’ve already bought either an Xbox of a Windows Media Center PC – then the Microsoft Windows Home Server sounds like a product dressed like a solution looking for a problem.

In addition, there are concerns over the OEM-only status of the product:

“Meaning that you won’t be able to head out and buy WHS at your local retail joint. And much like Media Center in the early days, we don’t expect specialty shops to carry an OEM version of the software anytime soon. This is disappointing news, because the early-adopter segment isn’t particularly interested in paying top dollar for OEM creations when do-it-yourself delivers a better experience.”

As a stand alone device, the Windows Home Server looks to be a fine enough product, but I will reserve the right to retract that statement if the end product isn’t simplicity itself to use.

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

2 replies on “Microsoft hone their Windows Home Server”

What I believe is, that Apple has big help from Intel. Intel had some strategies in the past for TV, Streaming and Home-Entertainment, but Microsoft wanted to do their own stuff. Now, Intel can help Apple to bring such things to the market. What I don’t understand is the name, becaue iTV, iPhone, iPod…are consistent, but Apple TV is a bit outside the schema.

Over here in Britain, we have a TV channel called ITV, so maybe that’s the reason, don’t know for sure.

As for Intel, I’d say it’s a fair bet that the Apple TV features the Viiv technology stuff, but Apple being Apple won’t be using the logo or the Intel branding.

I wonder if Apple still qualify for the marketing subsidies? Hmmm…

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