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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  • Gholam - Sunday, September 9, 2007 - link

    Yeah... "if properly implemented". I've got to see that "proper" implementation at work though.
  • ATWindsor - Sunday, September 9, 2007 - link

    Try a "pure" software-raid not connected to any of the onboard-solutions.

  • Gholam - Sunday, September 9, 2007 - link

    That ends up costing even more than a proper hardware solution - either in software licensing costs, or in time investment, or both.
  • ATWindsor - Sunday, September 9, 2007 - link

    If it where implmented in WHS, you have already bought the software, setting it up in raid5 is IMHO very easy if its done in a similar way as in win2003 (or possibly even easier)

  • bespoke - Tuesday, September 4, 2007 - link

    MS had an open beta for WHS, so I signed up. I installed the server software on an old 2.4 Ghz P4 with just 512 megs of RAM and it works well. I've not had any issues in the 3 months or so I've used it - my primary PC has been backed up faultlessly the whole time. WHS keeps about 10 to 12 revisions (increments, really) of my PC around, so if there ever has a problem, I have a large amount of backup points to restore from.

    I can see this software (or a complete package - HP will be coming out with a line of small boxes with WHS preinstalled) as being a great thing for a geek to setup for non-techie family members. Seamless and invisible backups along with an easy to use file server shold make this a win.
  • leexgx - Tuesday, September 4, 2007 - link

    WHS mirroring of files is more then raid 1

    was reading it an little fast but have you tryed simply adding disks and removeing them its Very easy to do as it has an Wizard that makes it alot easyer

    allso each disk is in NTFS format (thay are mounted as Drive folders) so if the boot disk broke (as for some Very strage resone the fist disk is 20gb boot and the rest storage that make it Alot harder to fit an bigger disk on the boot drive)

    tested it in VMware with 4-7 disks what is Strage is the prerequest that the fist disk Must not be scsi only IDE or Native Sata mode (not Raid Sata mode) for the boot disk

    good review tho
  • leexgx - Tuesday, September 4, 2007 - link

    allso the backup is not so hot for adv users who do not want to do the whole pc as i could not find an option when i was testing it to Pick dir folders I want backing up as by default it selects all folders apart from temp ones and give you No option to goto Pick an folder mode all you can do is Pick what folders you want Not to back up
  • Ryan Smith - Tuesday, September 4, 2007 - link

    You can select folders for exclusion when configuring the backups.
  • leexgx - Tuesday, September 4, 2007 - link

    i all ready explaned that problem you can't pick all of them at once you have to add each root folder

    i want to be able to Pick an folder insted of haveing to go the longwinded way of haveing to exclued all the folders
  • BigLan - Tuesday, September 4, 2007 - link

    Nice preview of WHS. I'm intrigued by it and have the RC but didn't get around to installing it and playing around.

    For me, the mce issue is the biggest sticking point and hopefully WHS2 will include a recording engine which mce boxes can connect to. I hear the both sage and beyondTV can be run on WHS with the appropriate link software, but it's extra cost to people with vista home premium boxes, and doesn't work well with a 360. For existing sage or BTV users WHS could be worth it, in my case because I could move 3 hard drives out of the case in my living room and into a PC in a closet.

    The backup features sound great though, and are what I want most. It sounds very simple to use as well.

    I wonder if whs2 will include a roaming desktop feature so a user can log in to any machine and have everything ready and waiting for them. It sounds like their 'my docs' folder is being copied to the server, so hopefully MS will include this in the next release.

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