Microsoft patches Windows Home Server corruption bug

Fixes a problem that dates back to December 2007.

Microsoft on Monday patched a long-standing data corruption bug in Windows Home Server Monday as it released a public beta of the software's first major update.

The Release Candidate of Power Pack 1 also adds new functionality to the server software, including backup of files in folders shared among PCs on the network and support for 64-bit versions of Windows Vista.

But Microsoft wasted no time in touting the fix for the data corruption bug, a problem that dates back to December 2007. "We have high confidence that Power Pack 1 solves the data corruption bug that was first identified late last year," said Charlie Kindel, the general manager for the Windows Home Server (WHS) team in a post to the group's blog Monday. "We are running this public beta with the aspiration that we will get thousands of beta testers to help us prove that we not only have fixed 'the bug,' but have significantly improved all parts of Windows Home Server."

Tuesday, Joel Sider, a WHS senior product manager, echoed Kindel. "We're really confident that we've taken the right approach," he said when asked about the bug and its fix. "But that last 10% [of testing] is the most challenging. This lets us test [the fix] in a very large-scale way."

Microsoft first acknowledged a corruption problem near the end of last year, when it warned users not to edit files stored on their WSH-powered servers after reports surfaced of lost data. Two months later, Microsoft was promising a fix by June at the earliest. In April, Microsoft said it would delay Power Pack 1 in order to work on the bug and would roll out a patch concurrently with the update, rather than launch Power Pack 1 first, as it had originally intended.

Kindel urged users to download and test the Power Pack 1 beta, and promised not to release the update until customers had given the green light. "We will not ship the final release of Windows Home Server Power Pack 1 until the community has validated our work," he said in the same blog post.

That emphasis isn't unusual, said Sider. "Microsoft traditionally relies on public beta testing to get input from real users and partners," he said Tuesday. "Windows Home Server has a very vibrant community and we want to make sure they're involved."

The data corruption bug was eventually traced by Microsoft to the server's drive extender technology, which WHS uses to write data to more than one disk drive. The fix, said Sider, resolves the problems found in moving data to multiple drives. "It removes any timing issues," he said, "and makes sure there are no [data] errors when files are transferred to multiple drives."

The bug was limited to servers with more than one drive, Microsoft said early in its investigation.

Power Pack also adds new functionality to WSH and improves performance, according to Microsoft. Sider picked two of the new features he thought were most important to users: support for PCs running Windows Vista x64, and backing up of server-based files stored in shared folders. "We're extending peace of mind," said Sider. "Users can now back up those shared folders to an external drive [connected to a WHS server]."

WHS does not offer server-wide backup -- to back up the backup, essentially -- but instead lets users copy only the music, photographs and other documents shared among the machines on the network.

Sider said Microsoft remains "bullish" on WHS, bugs notwithstanding. "As are our partners," he added. He would not spell out a timetable for the update going final, however, saying only that it would release in the "coming months."

Windows Home Server users can download the Power Pack 1 preview from Microsoft's beta test site. WSH developers have also posted a list of known issues that still remain on a new support forum dedicated to the update.

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Gregg Keizer

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