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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  • n0nsense - Thursday, September 6, 2007 - link

    I really impressed by you responses.
    You might be right about set up mess and definitely right about need to read few pages in order to try something not microsoft.
    It is a free world when you choose your platform, but far away of being free when you choose proprietary one.
    while you talking, most of you did not try any *nix in last years.
    If my parents, cousins and the rest of close persons were able to use it without calling me twice a week each, for some kind of support as they did in XP time and not to reinstall XP once a year for each box, then it's really indicates user friendliness and stability of non MS OSes.
    And by the way, you can by preinstalled and configured Linux box from Dell, HP or Lenovo (not to mention other smaller OEM's) and not to waste your time on installation.
    As for the growing take next example:
    Online defragmentation

    Although the extent based nature of XFS and the delayed allocation strategy it used significantly improves the file system's resistance to fragmentation problems, XFS provides a filesystem defragmentation utility (xfs_fsr, short for XFS filesystem reorganizer) that can defragment a mounted and active XFS filesystem. Note that xfs_fsr is usually part of xfsdump package, not xfsprogs.

    Online resizing

    XFS provides the xfs_growfs utility to perform online resizing of XFS file systems. XFS filesystems can be grown provided there is remaining unallocated space on the device holding the filesystem. This feature is typically used in conjunction with volume management, as otherwise the partition holding the filesystem will need enlarging separately.
    read this to understand more:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File_systems">http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File_systems

    there is no such thing as perfect software (OS is one of this). but there is definitely better and worse .
    "Computers are like air conditioners. They stop working when you open Windows." (c)
    Reply
  • imaheadcase - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    You are so wrong, it is geared towards everyone. The software it uses has been proven to be VERY reliable. As stated in the very article you are posting about. NTFS is also very reliable.

    Of coruse grandma won't care for it, but I already know many people who are getting it based on how easy it is to use. Even businesses are getting it i know of because of ease of backup it provides plus not having to hire outside help to set it up.

    The fact that you completely don't understand the HOME part of the server is mind boggling.
    Reply
  • n0nsense - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    I understand one thing.
    Can not find justification to pay for license when it can be done completely without cost.
    NTFS compared to journalized file systems is bad in term of data reliability, performance etc.
    Can not find reason to pay for new computer while very old one can do the job perfectly.
    (P 4, 1.5GHz, 1GB RDRAM, ~1.3TB storage perfectly doing the job of File, Backup, Mail, DNS, FTP, Net Boot server all in one with uptime of 6 month (every 6 month i clean the dust inside my computers) where the HD and SATA PCI cards are only things that i needed to buy. Just for the price of license, you can add at least 500 GB of additional storage.
    All you need is RTFM how to set up linux box. Easy way, binary distribution will take 2-5 hours to set up all this. Advanced way, source distribution (such as Gentoo) can take few days to compile (all done automatically and your attention needed not more then in ordinary installation) . took me 3 days to complete it on p2 400MHz laptop with 186 MB ram. which is now able to a nice balcony terminal with internet access and ability to view movies (that was impossible under very cut and optimized XP, maximum 6-10 fps for movies, and very close to impossible in binary linux. )etc.
    I don't tell to replace your desktop (since i have dual boot on main computer to be able play some very new games that not yet supported in linux), but if you want stable server, working without your attention, and you don't need to wonder what to do with slow downs, dirty regestry etc after year (not to mention viruses etc). Not to mention the easiness of move the system to new hardware (when you want it), transfer the disks and power up.
    I can continue and explain another 100 reasons why this WHS is useless, but the buttom line will be the Subject. This is another MS way to squeeze few mor bucks from you, and may be to grant need for MCSE and MCSA guys that will extra cost for your small business friends.
    As for the HOME part -- i spent 2 years of my life working at tech support of ADSL provider. I know exactly what is average HOME users with a lot of computers. They will call some technician to do the setup and to fix their problems. exactly what they doing when they need to reinstall OS or clean up the mess. For advanced users (like you if you spending your time on this site) will be much more cost, time, and performance effective not to use it.
    Reply
  • imaheadcase - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    What you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul. Reply
  • neogodless - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    What makes me sad is that I did actually read it all the way through.

    Also... I don't understand why people argue so violently against some things.

    I was able to try out the RC, others can download a 120 trial when it is available... you can find out for yourself. And you can also download Linux and try it. See which one is easier to set up.

    Personally, I consider myself pretty advanced, and I tried Ubuntu 7.04 and still felt pretty lost when I wanted to do things. Yes, I'm sure I could learn it but time is valuable... I can spend half an hour setting up WHS... like I did, and just forget about it... nothing to learn, no need to tear my hair out!
    Reply
  • leexgx - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    i agree that was an big rant i my self fix pcs all day and it takes me more then an hr ot day to do things on linux that should only take 6 clicks or some command line tool to do it as well

    linux software makers do not think to much about useablty for any one who is not an linux guru

    try and play an Mp3 or an stream, tell me how long that takes you to play it (i hate to try and play an xvid file)

    i tryed to use it lots of times my self just get stuck at simple things that should be simple that it i should not have to type {chmod 2883 -d -w -u \file\sfd} (made up as i cant find any help for setting the securty of files for that command any more)
    Reply
  • n0nsense - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    I understand one thing.
    Can not find justification to pay for license when it can be done completely without cost.
    NTFS compared to journalized file systems is bad in term of data reliability, performance etc.
    Can not find reason to pay for new computer while very old one can do the job perfectly.
    (P 4, 1.5GHz, 1GB RDRAM, ~1.3TB storage perfectly doing the job of File, Backup, Mail, DNS, FTP, Net Boot server all in one with uptime of 6 month (every 6 month i clean the dust inside my computers) where the HD and SATA PCI cards are only things that i needed to buy. Just for the price of license, you can add at least 500 GB of additional storage.
    All you need is RTFM how to set up linux box. Easy way, binary distribution will take 2-5 hours to set up all this. Advanced way, source distribution (such as Gentoo) can take few days to compile (all done automatically and your attention needed not more then in ordinary installation) . took me 3 days to complete it on p2 400MHz laptop with 186 MB ram. which is now able to a nice balcony terminal with internet access and ability to view movies (that was impossible under very cut and optimized XP, maximum 6-10 fps for movies, and very close to impossible in binary linux. )etc.
    I don't tell to replace your desktop (since i have dual boot on main computer to be able play some very new games that not yet supported in linux), but if you want stable server, working without your attention, and you don't need to wonder what to do with slow downs, dirty regestry etc after year (not to mention viruses etc). Not to mention the easiness of move the system to new hardware (when you want it), transfer the disks and power up.
    I can continue and explain another 100 reasons why this WHS is useless, but the buttom line will be the Subject. This is another MS way to squeeze few mor bucks from you, and may be to grant need for MCSE and MCSA guys that will extra cost for your small business friends.
    As for the HOME part -- i spent 2 years of my life working at tech support of ADSL provider. I know exactly what is average HOME users with a lot of computers. They will call some technician to do the setup and to fix their problems. exactly what they doing when they need to reinstall OS or clean up the mess. For advanced users (like you if you spending your time on this site) will be much more cost, time, and performance effective not to use it.
    Reply
  • Gholam - Sunday, September 9, 2007 - link

    How long does it take to set up a "without cost" system? Now multiply that by $50/hour which I bill. And you still won't have single instance storage. Reply
  • tynopik - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    > Can not find justification to pay for license when it can be done completely without cost.

    oh really?

    please tell me where i can find a backup system as flexible and powerful as this at no cost

    - autocombine all physical disks into 1 volume
    - disks can be any size
    - disks can be added or removed at will
    - yet still have physical redundancy of files on different drives
    - automatically save single instance of identical files/blocks to reduce space wastage
    - automatically preserve previous versions
    - do live imaging of windows systems that can then be restored from bare metal with just a boot cd and a network connection

    sure parts of it can be duplicated for free, but do tell how you would setup something that does ALL that
    Reply
  • wrong - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    WHS lacks the drivers to run tuner cards and other media center paraphernalia, so it can't act as a media center. However, its hardware requirements are quite standard - disk and
    network card - so it should be feasible to run it under virtualization on your MCE box.

    Ideally, you'd want to give it its own disks, rather than having the virtual machine's disks map to files on the host machine, but that wouldn't be mandatory.
    Reply

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