Running Windows Server at home

Who needs a server-level operating system at home, and why?

Windows Home Server: Best of both worlds?

As it happens, Microsoft is on the verge of rolling out a server product specifically for the home market -- Windows Home Server . Five years ago, Windows Home Server probably wouldn't have been as interesting to consumers. For one, there weren't as many PCs per household, so offering a product with these functions wouldn't have been as appealing. Today, it's not uncommon for everyone in the family to have at least one PC, sometimes two.

To that end, Microsoft decided to respond by working with hardware vendors to create a version of Windows Server that will come bundled with a stand-alone, appliance-like device. It's obviously not intended to be a replacement for Windows Server in all environments; its features are aimed mainly at home users. But they're likely to be incredibly handy to that audience.

Aside from file and printer sharing, Home Server also includes things like network-wide backup and recovery, PC health monitoring (e.g., antivirus) and remote connectivity to both the server itself and to your desktops. The real beauty of the system is that it's sold as an appliance, much like your typical firewall/router product. The idea is that you'll just be able to uncrate it, plug it into the wall and the home network, and then run the client software on each PC to get each machine set up for backups. The client software works only on XP or Vista as of now.

WHS itself is also touted as being highly self-managing, so you don't need to learn how to administer yet another computer -- and a server at that -- to get it to work.

Those with IT-savvy might wonder how the guts of Windows Home Server shape up against Windows Server in general. As it turns out, Home Server's essentially a variant of Windows Small Business Server 2003, but with a different shell that makes it a lot easier to accomplish the tasks it's built to do. However, it's also closed -- you're not allowed to install arbitrary software on it, since it's being sold and marketed as an appliance product.

That might be frustrating to admins who are used to being able to do as they please, but WHS isn't really intended to eclipse existing editions of Windows Server anyway. And Microsoft has a sort of plug-in architecture that makes it possible to extend Home Server's functionality without needing to hack it.

The single biggest strike against running Windows Home Server is likely to be the cost. Since it's meant to be sold with a hardware device, essentially a low-end PC, the cost may be as high as $1000. The cost hasn't been set yet and will probably be established first by the hardware OEMs. But as one means of comparison, Windows Small Business Server 2003 includes full implementations of SQL Server and Exchange Server right in the box.

What makes Home Server the more appetizing of the two choices is not price alone, but the feature mix, which is geared more to home users than other versions of Windows Server would be, unless you have a family of SQL or Exchange developers.

Conclusions

Most of what you probably need a server for in a home network setting can probably be handled with existing products. Desktop versions of Windows may be crippled by how many connections they're permitted to handle at once, but in a home environment, you will likely never approach those limits. If you do need to get around those limits, it is possible to use Linux to do so, provided you don't run into any hardware-support issues. Even for those who want or need it, Windows Home Server isn't quite baked yet. It's scheduled to be released along with its corresponding hardware in the second half of this year. Still, it promises to solve a lot of problems all at once, for those who need it and are inclined to drop the cash.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Serdar Yegulalp

Computerworld
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?