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IoT
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Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
11/5/2007
12:47 PM
David  DeJean
David DeJean
Commentary
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Windows Home Server Gets Serious

Back in May at Microsoft's Windows Hardware Engineering (WinHEC) Conference, Windows Home Server, a new product, still in beta, was one of the stars of the show. It's taken nearly six months for Home Server to get its act together and take it on the road. But today HP finally announces its MediaSmart Server, a Home Server appliance, and Home Server will soon appear at big-box retailers near you.

Back in May at Microsoft's Windows Hardware Engineering (WinHEC) Conference, Windows Home Server, a new product, still in beta, was one of the stars of the show. It's taken nearly six months for Home Server to get its act together and take it on the road. But today HP finally announces its MediaSmart Server, a Home Server appliance, and Home Server will soon appear at big-box retailers near you.The HP machine itself has taken a while to get to its 15 minutes of fame. It was featured onstage in May -- during Bill Gates' keynote, no less -- but only today is the company announcing that the device is available for pre-orders (from Amazon.com, Best Buy.com, Buy.com, Circuit City.com, and CompUSA.com) and will be shipped to customers and debut in bricks-and-mortar retail settings later in November.

It seems to me Microsoft has soft-pedaled Home Server while waiting for its hardware partners to catch up. But then, Microsoft's ways are not my ways. After I wrote about Home Server back in May, I sort of expected Microsoft to launch the product and sell it as a software package.

It would make sense. I got the beta in May and I can testify that setting up and running Windows Home Server is not rocket science. But I forgot: that's not the way Microsoft sells software. It sells it to OEMs, who install it on hardware.

The HP box, for example, is available in two versions, both built around an AMD Live 64-bit Sempron processor with 512 Mbytes of RAM, a Gigabit Ethernet port, four USB 2.0 ports for connecting additional hard drives, and an eSATA port for high-speed data transfer to external storage devices. The HP MediaSmart Server EX470 offers half a terabyte of hard disk storage (in the form of a 500-Gbyte SATA 7200 RPM drive) at a list price of $599, and the HP MediaSmart Server EX475 offers a terabyte on two drives for $749. There are still three (or two) empty drive bays for expansion.

(The HP server also includes HP Photo Webshare software. Is it just me, or is anybody else bothered by HP's chutzpah about its photo software? Every time I install an HP printer driver I have to be extremely careful or I wind up with huge downloads and installs that pop up to run bloated photo applications when I put a flash drive into my PC. Very annoying.)

While HP has been getting its server to market, other OEMs have been busy, too, and Microsoft is using the HP announcement to give the Windows Home Server community a little coming-out party. Fujitsu Siemens has a competing server product, the Scaleo Home Server 1900. Also new today are the PC T7-HSA Tranquil Harmony Home Server and the Velocity Micro NetMagix HomeServer. Several companies, including Ace Computers, Advantec, PC Club, and Universal Systems, are selling Windows Home Server systems based on the system builder version of the software.

More products are in the works from manufacturers such as Iomega, Gateway, and LaCie, and Intel will be announcing a platform for Windows Home Server.

Third-party software is appearing in volume, as well. Windows Home Server supports add-ins, and there are three dozen or so on the market. Software companies tailoring products for Windows Home Server include Embedded Automation (mControl home automation add-in), Proxure (KeepVault for automatic online backup and storage of data), and SageTV (SageTV Media Server for media streaming from Windows Home Server to any PC or Macintosh, at home or over the Internet). A couple of others are announcing today: Avira GmbH (malware detection and removal) and Diskeeper (Diskeeper 2008 defragmentation software).

Microsoft clearly thinks it has a role to play in the digitization of home media and is using Windows Home Server as a marketing wedge. Many of the third-party software providers offer products that add media-handling features to the Home Server boxes, and seem aimed at people who aren't exactly propellerheads -- Ceiva digital photo frames, LobsterTunes for streaming to Windows Mobile-based devices, PacketVideo PVConnect media streaming, the Riptopia CD loading service, and the Whiist Web page and photo album software.

Even though you've probably got all the photo managers you need, don't let the "dumbed down for the home user" marketing prevent you from taking a look at Windows Home Server. It's serious back-up for home (or, to be sure, small-business) networks. You can buy Windows Home Server software, if you're so inclined (the OEM version is available on Amazon.com, among other places) and you already have a box to run it on. But if you're tech-savvy enough to think about installing it yourself, you also can appreciate what it means to get a terabyte of networked storage for $749. You can always just delete the photo software.

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