I’ve been involved in the setup of two HP MediaSmart EX475 Windows Home Servers recently. The Windows Home Server software is simply elegant, and HP has enhanced it to make setup go remarkably smoothly.

WHSbook At a couple of points I marveled at the technology that made some steps seem easy during setup. In a few clicks, I had a web site name assigned to a server and registered with a dynamic DNS service so it will turn up online regardless of what kind of broadband service is available. It’s free, included in the price of the server, and could not have been simpler. People will be dazzled when they explore the options for sharing files and photos from these servers!

There are steps where you might want some handholding. I did a few mildly tricky things in the process of configuring computers for backup and remote access. User login names and passwords have to be assigned consistently on each computer; help is offered but that will be a bit daunting for some people. The server does a valiant job trying to configure the router so it can be reached online but that will frequently require manual work to forward ports on the router.

The HP MediaSmart server immediately goes to work doing full backups of each computer in the network, every day. If a hard drive dies, you can install a new hard drive and boot the computer from a provided CD; the computer will connect to the server and immediately restore the computer to its last-backed-up state. It’s called a “bare metal restore” and by all accounts WHS does it brilliantly.

If computers in the network are running Windows XP Professional or Windows Vista Business, the web access to the server sets up Remote Desktop connections to those computers with a single click.

Those features alone are almost worth the price of the server, but of course it also excels at storing shared files and displaying photos on a pretty web page for the grandparents and a lot of other tricks. Here’s where I hyped Windows Home Server a few months ago. Maybe you should go read the book. Why haven’t you bought one yet?