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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  • Aileur - Tuesday, September 4, 2007 - link

    Nice articule!
    First of all, a typo (im guessing)
    Page 7: Simply put, there is no integration between the two. By default WHS and MCE are completely //obvious// to each other.
    Im guessing that should be oblivious?

    And a question:
    On page 6 it is mentionned that there is a solution for non domained networks and all that. Fine, but what if i DO have a domain? Is there any way to integrate it without using that bypass method?
    Can it (whs) be my domain controller?

  • Ryan Smith - Tuesday, September 4, 2007 - link

    Unfortunately WHS does not have domain controller support. I haven't seen a reason why, but it's a safe assumption this is so there's a greater difference between WHS and 2K3SBS.

    It also doesn't support joining a domain.
  • yyrkoon - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    Does not even have software RAID support, at least the last time I ran the beta . . .

    cannot believe you guys are just_now writting an article on it, but, I suppose maybe you guys had a NDA in effect ? Anyhow, I have a hard time embracing *any* OS that is supposed to be a server product and does not implement software RAID period, but I supose they think their backup scheme is better ? No reason to 'force' it onto others.

    The main reason I think it does not have a DC is that this is meant for home storage only. I.E. a very limited form of Windows 2003. I ran it on my secondary system for a few days, and decided I would probably rather run XP Pro, or Win2003 datacenter(or one of the other variants, maybe even Linux) at this capacity.
  • PrinceGaz - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    Just a wild guess from me here, but I think most home-users would be put off by the US$ 2,999 price-tag of Windows 2003 Datacenter edition.
  • mino - Tuesday, September 11, 2007 - link

    Good guess :)

    Anyway, Win2000 is pretty much enough for any home serving and 2nd-hand licences goes pretty cheap (especially when security support is likely to match even extend currently sold XP licences...).

    Just my 2 cents.
  • mino - Tuesday, September 11, 2007 - link

    Win2000 Server, of course.

    Also, as a sidefect of standard win200 kernel it usually does not have problems with TV tuners...
  • tynopik - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    > Anyhow, I have a hard time embracing *any* OS that is supposed to be a server product and does not implement software RAID period

    1. it's a HOME server, not a corporate server
    2. it is better than RAID (at least for it's intended audience)

    disks of any size can be added or removed at any time, yet files are still physically duplicated on different disks, that is very flexible and powerful

    i love this feature so much i wish they would include it in regular windows
  • leexgx - Tuesday, September 4, 2007 - link

    nothing stopping you seeing it on the network still

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