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
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  • mindless1 - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    See "Cause" on http://support.microsoft.com/kb/122920">this MS KB page. Reply
  • leexgx - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    i got an windows 2000 pc setup as an server (think its win2k pro) when we had windows XP installed the 10 connection limit was an problem so we just put the old one back in and set up the file shareing on that one (+ 15 computers)

    only XP and vista has this limit and probly windows server when setup in Per license mode win2k and less have no 10 connection limit even thught that KB says so
    Reply
  • Gholam - Sunday, September 9, 2007 - link

    The 10 simultaneous connections limit goes back as far as NT4 workstation. Reply
  • BigLan - Tuesday, September 4, 2007 - link

    Strange, I've never had a problem sharing files in XP. True, I turn off simple file sharing (in windows Explorer - tools - folder options - view tab, bottom of advanced settings) but that's all. I've even added machines with a different workgroup name and been able to share files using \\machine name\c$.

    Also, you'd have thought that at least a couple of businesses would have complained by now if you couldn't browse network shares.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    Yeah, I share media from WinXP to WinXP, Win2000, Win2003, and Linux dailey, It is not exactly rocket science . . . I suppose if you think it should be confiured straight out of the box working perfectly then . . . whatever(heh). Reply
  • leexgx - Tuesday, September 4, 2007 - link

    WHS is little more then just an XP computer thats file shareing
    as it has auto mirroring of files (if more then 2 disks are used)
    not tested it but it supports M$ MCE stuff (poorly from what been revewed) it allso supports none windows based media extenders

    i like to find out how this WHS works when running p2p apps on it as well as it dislikes you wanting to loging onto it
    Reply
  • BigLan - Tuesday, September 4, 2007 - link

    There's already a torrent plug-in for it, and you could use any p2p app that has a web server interface. I hear it works very well. Reply
  • sc3252 - Tuesday, September 4, 2007 - link

    Its called debian, not server's for idiots. Reply
  • Sunbird - Tuesday, September 4, 2007 - link

    What if you want to have 2 WHSs on the same network. Say one would be the file server and the second one (with even more HDD space) would be used to backup the file server and all the home PCs. Would it be possible?
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Tuesday, September 4, 2007 - link

    I haven't tested this, so I can't be sure. The only problem I could see is the backup client, it automatically searches out the network for the WHS. 2 servers may work, but I'd be a bit surprised if they did. Reply

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