CES - Microsoft holds out on Home Server

For the second year in a row, I'm braving the wilds of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), now in its 40th straight year. Again, I'm doing it on my own dime because [IDG publication] InfoWorld enjoys torturing me just a little, which means I'm staying with one of our bloggers, Brian Chee, and one of the Catholic Church's chief geeks, a Jesuit priest known only by his code name: Padre.

It's Day 2 of our CES experience. My feet hurt, Brian's cranky because he bought the Lenovo X41 mini-tablet when the X60 just came out with so much more cool stuff, and since the press room is more crowded than a Vegas stripper's bra, the free lunches ran out before we could get to them, which means I'm subsisting on wilted lettuce leaves and some beef jerky I stole out of Brian's knapsack.

But there was column fodder here and so I came. It's just that it took me two days to find Microsoft's booth. But once I did, it jumped right out at me: Microsoft Home Server ... Version 1. Yeah, it's real enough to be showing at a trade show. We plucked a Microsoftee out of the crowd to pick his brain on the topic, and the thing quickly took shape.

It's meant to run headless on an appliance -- something the family can stick in the closet downstairs. Once up, it sees all the PCs in your home and hooks to your broadband connection. It then does almost what you'd expect: One; it'll back up itself and your home PCs using Microsoft's backup service; two, it'll stream music and video from its hard disk to any PC; and three, it'll talk to various Windows Live services, including the Xbox's gaming network.

It was a nice little litany, but it left me with a number of questions that the unfortunate Microsftoid couldn't answer. For example: Why is it based on Windows Server 2003 and not Longhorn if Home Server isn't coming out till the second half of this year? Longhorn's better no matter how you slice it or how much you strip it down to fit into a home frame.

Why is there no perimeter Internet security? Home Server says it wants to enable remote access among other features, but it doesn't want to use Microsoft's VPN and has none of ISA's (Internet Search and Acceleration) feature set. Why didn't Microsoft put together a home version of ISA that would have been able to handle that seamlessly? And speaking of security, why not an invisible version of WSUS (Windows Server Update Services) so that Home Server could download all your PCs' updates, store them, and the push them out during off hours?

And why, why, why ignore one of the few things every parent looks for in a home network management appliance: kid controls? Microsoft has a great proxy server, so how come Internet usage tracking, kids vs. parent permissioning, and black/white lists aren't part of this package? And all these complaints are about stuff Redmond's already got and simply had to repackage. If they'd put a little innovation into the mix, I would have thought some smart home partners or IPTV partners could have made Home Server the sexiest release since the iPod.

OK, I'm probably cranky because my feet feel like freshly skinned soccer balls, but considering that Home Server is supposed to have been in development during the past year and a half, I think I'm justified in expressing some disappointment. This really isn't a "home" server; it's a slightly souped-up storage OS. There's nothing here about running home-oriented services, just sharing files and backing up data. Microsoft could have gone so much further with relatively little effort.

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Oliver Rist

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