Windows Home Server: Too Little Too Late?

Windows LogoWhen I received my copy of MaximumPC in the mail yesterday, I was shocked to learn that Microsoft is finally planning on releasing a server product intended for home use. Shocked, because it’s really too little too late. There’s been a market for something like this for years, maybe even a decade. Ever since households started, well, housing, more than one computer. It’s called innovation — something no one was asking for, but something everyone wants when they see it.

Of course, Microsoft isn’t innovating jack here. People in the market for this have already found their solutions, and I’ll bet a large majority of it doesn’t involved properly licensed Windows. Be it, Linux, pirated/unlicensed versions of Windows server OS’s, or accidentally stepping over the client access restrictions (5 for XP Home, 10 for 2000 Pro and XP Pro), the bottom line is that Microsoft wasn’t getting paid, and the market wasn’t big enough for them to care about it until now.

No matter which route people have chosen, Microsoft has already found out that people don’t change OS software just because they threaten to drop or have dropped support for it. Businesses still run Windows 2000 or even NT 4. Home users still run Windows 98. Once you’ve made an investment in time to get to know one way of doing things, you want your return to be more than a handful of years.

So with that, here are the features Microsoft is touting for this new OS, and why it really isn’t all that much.

WHS will be OEM only — Yeah, I just plunked down cash on a new file server less than 6 months ago. It’s way over-spec’ed for a file server, but I just had to have Gigabit Ethernet. I really want to replace this machine. [Update: On May 15th, at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference, Bill Gates announced that WHS will be available as a stand-alone product. However, the WHS product page’s FAQ site still says “OEMs will set the final pricing.”]

WHS only requires a 1GHz CPU and 512MB of RAM — Current server versions of popular Linux distros only require a 486 and up to 196MB of RAM.

Central file and print sharing — Samba and NFS has been doing this for years. Microsoft’s fault for only including this functionality with Domains and Active Directory until now.

No central management of user accounts — Although user accounts can be synced across multiple machines, the fact remains that everyone’s account is still stored locally on each machine. Too bad, because Samba and NIS has provided central account management for years, as have Domains and Active Directory.

Centralized Backup — This really has me scratching my head. Why invest in a server if you’re not going to store your files in a central location? Well, that is the mess that is Windows. Whereas almost every Linux app stores it user-specific settings and data to /home/username, and you can make that directory centralized using NFS and NIS, God forbid Windows does the same for \Documents and Settings\username. Actually, this would be a great time for Microsoft to show it’s true commitment to the Home Server crowd by somehow giving people the option to change the storage location of Documents and Setting as easily as you can change the location of My Documents.

Disaster Recover — This is another place I see a chance for Microsoft to shine. Instead of saving System Restore points locally, which may become inaccessible if the system goes down hard, WHS will store snapshots of each system. On the flip side, this shouldn’t be a necessity. With Linux I’ve only had one Linux install hosed, and that was a combination of the horrible openSUSE 10.2 release and trying to get a 3D desktop with XGL and Compiz. (The latter two being intentionally unstable beta releases.) I’ve hosed Windows more times than I can count simply trying out scads of software.

WHS Drive Extender — LVM (Logical Volume Managment), again, for years.

Windows Media Connect — Yawn. More DRM crap. Admittedly more of bullet-point than a selling-point, but why use WMC when SMB (Windows’ own network file sharing) and NFS already exist?

Headless — VNC has been doing this for a slew of operating systems for years, including Windows. Linux does one better with SSH and allowing the X Windows server to operate over a network.