Windows Home Server to be sold sans hardware

System builders can use it to convert old PCs into servers

In a speech Tuesday at WinHEC 2007 in Los Angeles, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates confirmed that users will be able to retrofit older PCs themselves with Windows Home Server (WHS) when it ships later this year.

Originally, the new server operating system was expected to be available only as part of turnkey home servers delivered by the likes of Hewlett-Packard and other leading PC makers. But Microsoft recently hinted that it might reconsider that idea, leading to Gates' announcement that the software would indeed be sold to system builders. The move will allow end users to recycle older PCs as servers.

Although technically "system builder" editions are meant for computer builders who preinstall software on machines before selling them to the public, in practice anyone can purchase such software, often labeled as "OEM." Microsoft's OEM license, for example, doesn't forbid end users from buying the software, a point reinforced by the proliferation of system builder editions sold online.

OEM editions are typically less expensive than retail SKUs -- on, the OEM version of Vista Home Premium sells for US$112.99, US$37 cheaper than the retail upgrade package -- but come with more restrictive licensing terms (the license cannot be transferred to another PC) and don't include technical support from Microsoft.

Even so, WHS beta testers, who have had to cobble together their own hardware to try out the server, welcomed the news. "This is great. Glad they listened to the user base," said someone identified as "dflachbart" on the WHS support forum.

Microsoft has slated WHS for release in the second half of the year. The three-month-old beta will soon be supplanted by a release candidate (RC1), according to the Code2Fame Challenge site for WHS add-on developers.

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Gregg Keizer

Gregg Keizer

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