At the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show, Microsoft figurehead Bill Gates announced in his keynote speech a new Windows product, Windows Home Server. In retrospect that was a bad time to announce the product as it was in the critical period between Windows Vista having gone gold and being released at retail, so few people were interested in "that server product" as opposed to Microsoft's long-in-development successor to Windows XP. Since that point the Vista launch came and went, while there has been little noise from the Windows camp about Home Server.

If we had to sum up Windows Home Server in one word that word would be "strange." Even having gone gold and shipped to system builders and distributors, Microsoft has been strangely quiet about a product they're targeting for the consumer space - we still don't know quite when it will be for sale or at what price. The fact that it's even for sale unbundled with hardware, albeit only as OEM software, is itself strange as this was originally slated to be only sold as part of complete computers from the usual suspects among the computer vendors. Finally, as we'll see even as a product it's strange, and difficult to really come to terms with.

So what is Windows Home Server (WHS)? The name says it all and at the same time says nothing. At its core it's a server operating system designed for use in the home, a place that previously has not needed or been offered anything like a true server. That means that WHS really doesn't compare to any one thing; it's a backup suite, it's a file server, it's a network attached storage(NAS) device, it's a web server, it's a media hub, it's a computer health monitor, it's even a gateway for Window's Remote Desktop. In even trying to describe the product, we run into the same problem Microsoft does; it's one thing to describe a product as "X but better" but it's another thing entirely when we don't have anything to serve as a comparison.

Perhaps the easiest way to understand what WHS is, is understanding why it exists. Microsoft, never one to shy away from finding a way to sell another computer, has come to the conclusion that with the saturation of full computers and smaller smart devices in homes (where some households are reaching the point where they have two computers per person) that the time has come where not unlike a corporate environment households now need a server to keep everything in order.

But home users don't need the same kind of server that business users need. Home users won't be running or need to be running their own SQL server or email server, but what about centralizing the location of everyone's media files? Or a web server for letting the relatives see all your photos? Or a backup suite that actually backs files up somewhere else than to the hard drive of the machine in question? And how about something that doesn't require an MCSE certification to run? Over the last two years Microsoft has been once again retrofitting the Windows Server 2003 kernel (previously refit to serve as Windows XP Pro x64) to be the new server that can do all of the above.

The result of those two years of effort is a very interesting product that we'd consider the most interesting Windows product to come out of Microsoft since Windows 2000, and yet at the same time it comes with the quirks that are undeniably Microsoft. As we'll see WHS can offer a lot of value to the market Microsoft is shooting for, but can it overcome the difficulties of forging a new market, and fighting against its own deficiencies? Let's take a look under the hood of Windows Home Server and find out the answer.

The Technology of WHS
Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • n0nsense - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    Server does not need to be Media Center.
    If you want All-in-One OS, use Linux.
    Your box will be exactly what you want it to be.
  • yyrkoon - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    I kind of view WHS as the latest WinME, but perhaps without all the software flaws that ME had. Meaning I think it *may* have been a good concept in theory, but fell short of being a true server OS. I was on the early beta program for this OS, and could not help but think this was a product for the less than technically inclined(IE Servers for dumbies).

    Right now, I do not think I would even consider WHS seriously, unless they made some radical changes. I mean why even bother, you have Linux(prefferably Debian in my case), or even WinXP which seems to be more technologically advanced by comparrison(in those areas that matter to me anyhow). Sure, the duplication of files for 'redundancy' on multiple drives may seem nice to those less than experienced users, but those of us who would likely use this product are already aware of rsync based *free* Windows appplications that do such a task already.

    Just the next 'red headed step child' in OSes as far as I am concerned.
  • imaheadcase - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    You are completely wrong in every aspect. esp the winME part, that was completely wrong and in no way close.

    WHS appeals to everyone, including technically inclined, could care less about super advanced features. WHS has what everyone has been asking for in a server for a long time, simplicity and ease of use. The stuff you described is a SMALL fraction of people, even then those people see the appeal of WHS.
  • imaheadcase - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    You should of noted that the network throttling bug only effects certain users of vista. Lots of people, myself included, have not encountered such bug. Even then, its not worth saying "vista users should definitely want to hold off on doing so." since its not a drastic decline that would prevent such transfers. Especially since everyone is going to do these big backups when not at computer.

    That whole paragraph is misleading.
  • Jeff7181 - Tuesday, September 4, 2007 - link

    If the prebuilt boxes are reasonably priced or the OEM licenses are reasonably priced I'm going to be buying one.

    I'm using the beta version of it right now, and in the past I have restored single files/directories with the backup utility and I actually just now got done doing a full restore of an NT volume because a family member filled the computer with viruses so I figured it would be the perfect time to try it out. I wiped out the partition, then put the Client Restore CD in the drive and a few clicks of the mouse later it was restoring all 25 GB of my primary partition over my LAN. Finished in under 2 hours... had to run scandisk to fix some orphaned files and whatnot, but it's working as if nothing happened now. And an unintended side effect is that it appears the MFT was completely rewritten and consolidated into a couple contiguous chunks on the hard drive if I Analyze the drive in Disk Defragmenter.
  • imaheadcase - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    They won't be reasonably priced if HP media center version is around the same as others are priced. They are around $500-700 with about 2x300gig hardrives (or 350gig i forget).

    The article mentioned they are going to offer better hardware that what is needed, so im sure that is going to make them more expensive than if you put something together on the cheap. Long as you can get the hardware for a cheap server off the internet that is required for the OS you are good.
  • AlexWade - Tuesday, September 4, 2007 - link

    Have you tried file sharing in XP Pro or Vista Ultimate? It is less painful and a lot easier to give yourself a root canal. I've followed Microsoft's instructions step-by-step with no success. Then, come to find out, you have to modify a registry key to get it to work. But that only works on half the computers out there. Even if you turn the firewall off and every single service on, it still won't file share.

    Why is it so hard for Windows to get file sharing right? It worked flawlessly in 2000 and in XP Home? It is part of XP Pro's and Vista Ultimate extra security. Needless to say, if Microsoft would get it right the first time, a cheap computer would work just as well as Home Server.

    Microsoft makes a broken product to sell you another product.
  • leexgx - Tuesday, September 4, 2007 - link

    found windows 2000 best os for it as it has no 10 connection user limits
  • mindless1 - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    IIRC, Win2k Pro does have a 10 concurrent inbound connection limit which 2K Server raises.
  • leexgx - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    win2k has no limits

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now