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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  • archer75 - Thursday, September 6, 2007 - link

    Actually the main purpose of WHS is not only backup but it's also as a file server. It's meant to store all of your data on it and have it protected so all in your home can access it.
    I am using it as a file server exclusively and I don't have it set to do any backups and it works great.
  • n0nsense - Thursday, September 6, 2007 - link

    Sorry, i will explain my self.
    I can't imagine file server without raid.
    1. Mirror if you have enough money and need best performance.
    2. raid 5 will give you same performance as normal disk.
    3. soft raid.
    when you store your data on server with redundancy, what backup do you need ?
  • shabazkilla - Thursday, September 6, 2007 - link


    It makes sense to offer RDP access to the server itself for management of the server and the network, but we don't immediately see the utility of being able to RDP into everything else. Certainly it's a nifty feature and we'll keep it, but we don't see it being very useful to all but a handful of users. How many people actually run a version of Windows that's RDP-server capable, after all?

    Any Windows XP or Vista PC has RDP server capability. I don't have my Vista laptop powered up at the moment, but in XP right click on My Computer, click Properties. Select the Remote tab and check "Allow users to connect remotely to this computer."

    As for the RDP session being HTTPS encapsulated, there is a known security bug with RDP that makes it less than secure.">Microsoft Terminal Services vulnerable to MITM-attacks

    If you need remote access to your network stick with VPN rather than opening up a Terminal Server to the internet.
  • tynopik - Thursday, September 6, 2007 - link

    > Any Windows XP or Vista PC has RDP server capability.

    that is only XP Pro, Vista Business or Vista Ultimate

    XP Home, Vista Home Basic, and Vista Home Premium do NOT have RDP
  • archer75 - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    I don't get the complaint with setting up WHS and Media Center. All you have to do is tell Media Center to watch the folder with your shows in it. You are going to do that anyways so it's not difficult at all. Just a normal part of Media Center's setup. I told it to watch a share which it found on it's own. Done. That's it.

    WHS is targeted at your average home users. As such they don't know anything about RAID or have the ability to set it up. And even for the experienced user it is simply not needed. Ditch RAID all together. Forget about it. It is not needed here in the slightest. WHS will duplicate what you set it to and you are protected against drive failure.

    The only other step I would take is using an online backup service to keep your data safe off site. There are at least two that will integrate with WHS console for easy management.

    I have personally built my own WHS and it currently has 6 hard drives in it with room for 6 more. It's been rock solid so far for a RC.
  • iwodo - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    It is nice this article prove a point. NAS ( or NAS like product.. in this case WHS ) does not necessary means slow.

    If we look at the graph at smallnetbuilder almost all NAS perform below 30/s MB per sec.
  • Verdant - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    well not a complete solution, the webguide add-in covers many of the features i would want for MCE, the main problem is still the multiple computers issue though.

    Whiist allows you to do a pretty good job of web hosting too,

    it just seems that some of these add-ins were ignored when this article was written!
  • n0nsense - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    This product can't be used by grandma because it is to complicated and she even don't aware of what it can do and for what she will need it.
    No enthusiast will use it since there is no reason to use product pretending something that it is not. It is not Server OS (hardly can call OS anything carrying Win logo with exception for WinCE which is truly interesting modular OS with micro kernel).
    From my experience, when you have 3 and more computers, you do want centralize storage for media and docs. and some to keep private. no way I'll trust MS to be responsible of such things. Not with NTFS which is far from being perfect.
    I'm sure MS will find the way to push it through OEM. But this is only thing they good at.

  • neogodless - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    If your grandma has three computers and an XBOX360, she might want this...

    Assuming she does...

    Option 1)
    Spend THREE DAYS setting up a Linux box with her spare old computer?!
    Spend extra money on hard drives because it does have SIS.
    When she adds hard drives... how does she tell Linux to spread out the files?

    Option 2)
    Spend 30 minutes setting up a pre-built WHS system or 90 minutes installing and setting up WHS on her old spare system. Maybe buy an extra hard drive here and there and spend 5 minutes adding it to the system.
  • leexgx - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    grandma lol

    but i agree good post (must make sub account so can rate users)

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