The Windows Home Server Nitty Gritty

You saw our review of the Windows Home Server DS-520 unit by Norco, but here are some great details we learned firsthand from Microsoft that we couldn't tell you until today. First off, did you know that they're planning on writing a children's book that explains the major functions of Windows Home Server in an easy to understand way? You don't need this, which is why you should read on to find out about their update schedule, their plugin system, and why the backup system is the easiest way you can secure your data without having to think about it.

Like we said in the review, Microsoft will have to explain to Joe or Jane Average and their families why they need one of these servers in their homes when they already own more than one computer. To this end, the WinHoSo team has focused on core functionality and cut out anything that would interfere with this message.

The major features are backup, network storage, remote access, and network management.Backup, as you saw in our review, backs up any Windows-based computer right onto the server. What's great is that it's actually intelligent backup, so if you have two computers with the same music library inside, the server will only store one copy of that library—saving you tons of room on backups in the process. Each unique file will only be backed up once, meaning a network of three computers can fit onto a server that has less space than all of them put together if there's a lot of redundancy in the files. If you've got multiple hard drives (be it internal or external) connected to the box, WHS automatically backs up data from one drive onto another (provided there's enough free space), allowing your system to be redundant without actually using RAID.

The Windows Home Server project reminds us—and them—a lot of Windows Media Center. They started with a small product that focused on core needs and did them very well, which eventually gets expanded by updates and upgrades. Microsoft's current plan is to provided two releases a year on a major/minor cycle, with the first minor release coming some time in early 2008.

Among the features they're considering adding is full-featured print server support—something that's more difficult than expected thanks to printer manufacturers' insistence on distributing drivers with 200MB management suites that ask you whether you want to buy more ink every time you start up. But yes, more features are coming.

The team also didn't want to alienate their beta testers, early adopters and DIY enthusiasts by making this product an OEM-only package like the first Windows Media Center was. You can pick up a copy of the Windows Home Server and build your own without buying a pre-built machine that's coming from just about every PC manufacturer. Sales of this first round of Windows Home Servers are projected to be 50% pre-built systems and 50% enthusiasts. It's also up to each manufacturer to decide what extras, if any, they want to include with their bundle to entice people to go with them. HP has their own photo sharing application that lets people upload and download pictures from your photo album.

What's also great about the Home Server ecosystem is that each hardware and software provider can extend functionality via plugins. Some of the more interesting upcoming plugins that we heard about are a photo frame that can stream photos directly from the server over Wi-Fi, online backup mirroring, family website hosting, and even a uTorrent service to download stuff unattended. Super cool, and will definitely get better as more companies get on board. [Windows Home Server]

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