WINDOWS HOME SERVER DEBUTS


Microsoft’s Windows Home Server just arrived on the market – and it’s what you want for Xmas.

I’ll give you a short overview and some links for you to click on, but let’s do some superlatives first. Windows Home Server is the coolest technology to arrive in years! It’s innovative, it’s beautifully designed, it does a lot of exceptionally useful things in elegant ways, and it’s open for third parties to extend it in the future. This is seriously good stuff.

Let’s get oriented. Microsoft has created software named “Windows Home Server,” but you won’t buy the software separately. You’ll buy a device made by HP or Iomega or Intel or a host of others that runs the Windows Home Server software.

Look at that image above and shrink it in your mind. The device you pull out of the box will look more like an oversized toaster than a computer. The HP MediaSmart in the picture is less than ten inches tall.

And that’s all there is. No keyboard. No mouse. No monitor. You’ll attach it to your router with a network cable and plug it into electricity. You’re done setting up the hardware!

You’ll install some software on your computer that will take care of the actual setup. In a series of easy-to-understand screens, you’ll make a few choices that get the Windows Home Server started. Sooner than you realize, it will be doing its tricks.

What does it do? A lot, more than I can convey in a few words. The categories are backup, file storage, computer monitoring, and remote access.

BACKUP

Every computer on the network is backed up automatically, every night.

The backups can be used to restore individual files or to restore an entire computer after a hard drive fails. There’s technical magic to make the backups take an amazingly small amount of storage space, and there’s design magic to make this easy to use.

FILE STORAGE

Your computers will have easy access to folders on the Windows Home Server for documents, photos and video. You’ll be able to get to those folders as easily as you get to your My Documents folder now – no complicated trips through Network Neighborhood.

Most Windows Home Server devices will have two or more hard drives. You won’t know anything about that – you’ll just see a single place to store things without having to look for an F: or a G: drive. Windows Home Server will be using technical magic to store duplicate copies of your stuff – if a hard drive fails on the Windows Home Server, your files will still be there.

If you plug in more drives (internally or by plugging in external USB drives), Windows Home Server will absorb them and you’ll have more storage space. If you unplug them, you’ll have less storage space. Your files won’t change either way.

COMPUTER MONITORING

Windows Home Server will be checking all the computers in the house to see if they have security issues, if their hard drives are running out of space, if there are any backup problems. You can have a single icon by the clock on your computer to give you feedback – if it’s green, all the computers are in good shape; if it’s yellow or red, something needs attention. If your computers are running Windows Live OneCare, it will be integrated soon so the single icon will alert you to any computer in the house that is dealing with viruses or spyware or needs updates installed.

REMOTE ACCESS

You’ll be able to access your Windows Home Server from anywhere, using a web browser and a name that you choose during setup (e.g., “http://bruceb.HomeServer.com/Home”). You’ll be able to download files, display photos, and do searches. You’ll also be able to send links to other people to photo galleries and folders on the Windows Home Server – no need to upload photos to an online service. You might need help configuring the router, but other parts of remote access are as easy to set up and use as everything else.

If you have a computer running Windows XP Pro or Vista Business, you’ll also be able to access it remotely through the Windows Home Server web page, controlling it with Remote Desktop from anywhere.

It’s worth reiterating that the design for all these controls is gorgeous and intuitive. Here’s the remote access portal, for example:

Go read about Windows Home Server!

Start with Microsoft’s web site for Windows Home Server – click the links, read the hype, watch the cheesy demo.

Go through Paul Thurrott’s review, or Gizmodo’s review and screen shots.

HP worked hard to add cool features to the HP MediaSmart Server, which has a much better demo. HP’s Reviewer’s Guide is one of the best introductions to Windows Home Server features, as well as highlighting the work done by HP to enhance its photo sharing and other features. Here are screen shots of some HP features. Amazon is taking pre-orders for the HP MediaSmart servers, which will be shipping within a week or two.

There’s a flood of hardware and software heading for the market built around Windows Home Server. (Here’s a blog that’s keeping track of it all.) But avert your eyes – most of you will never add anything to what comes out of the box, and I don’t want you to get the impression this is complicated.

Despite the name, I fully expect this to be an essential tool for small businesses. It even has the community of Small Business Server consultants buzzing – although it duplicates some of the functions of SBS, Windows Home Server also offers such dazzling technology for file storage and workstation backups that it may have a role in networks based on SBS.

You trust me, right? Trust me. This is fun, it does things with technology that you couldn’t do before, and you’ll be able to make people say, “Ooohhhhh.” You want one of these!