At one time or another, every Microsoft-branded product for the home has been called the next media "hub." Is it the Windows PC? Is it the Xbox? Is it the component-shaped Media Center PC? In January, Microsoft suggested that the , a standalone multidrive server that sits somewhere on your network, automatically caching all of your music, TV shows and other files, and giving you access to them throughout the home and on the road. (Yes, I know I know, it's not the most original of ideas, but that doesn't automatically mean it's not a good one.)
Today in New York, Microsoft and HP showed off the latest version of the product, a four-bay SATA server that will ship this September. (No price yet.) A two-drive 2.5" concept config built by Carbon Design is shown above. Follow the jump for lots of stuff I found out, plus pictures of the HP box and its current interface.
â€¢Microsoft has developed a remote-access tool for the system. Users get a free secure Web address that they can share so that family members and trusted friends can access files. The file structure itself looks clean and functional, but is fairly simple. Uploading is file by file: there's no bulk-uploading or drag-and-drop tool for transferring loads of files over the Internet to your Home Server.
â€¢Microsoft also introduced a backup program with full and incremental options. Word is that it's a better bet than Vista Backup and Restore.
â€¢HP's menu, shown in gallery, lets you automatically sync all iTunes tracks from all computers to the server, and access them via any computer. (I am betting that each computer has to be individually authorized for the DRM stuff, but it's nice to see an automatic way to both back up and share iTunes across a network.)
â€¢HP's MediaSmart Server program has an added remote photo-management program, one that lets you partition the server so that one part is semi-public. You transfer all the stuff you want to share, and then let your friends and relatives hit it whenever they want. (No more bugging you for pics.)
â€¢Microsoft will automatically provide access for any PCs that are Remote Desktop enabled. You don't have to figure out all of that port and DNS business to get to your computer, provided your computer runs XP MCE, XP Professional, Vista Business or Vista Ultimate.
â€¢The Home Control Center panel provides information about all of the PCs in your home, for maintenance ("Backup now") or monitoring ("Your kid's firewall is down").
â€¢You run a setup CD for every PC you want to link to the server. Xboxes use Windows Media Connect to access the content (though you can't sync your Xbox stuff to the server, at least not yet). Other computers, Macs, Linux machines and older PCs, can access the server as a network drive.
â€¢While there is no true RAID option, there is a folder mirroring option, so that you can create redundant copies of particular folders or particular media types across two drives, for backup.
â€¢When HP ships the four-bay product in September, it may offer hard-drive choices. It will likely leave at least two of the bays free, for an "upgrade path."
OK, you've been patient. Enjoy some pics.