Las Vegas -- Today Microsoft took the wraps off its highly anticipated home server software, the brains inside several products that are expected to ship this year. I sat down with a company representative to get a first look at what Microsoft Windows Home Server can do. The demo system was HP's MediaSmart Server, which was announced here at CES and will be available in September.
At its core, Microsoft Windows Home Server allows home users with multiple PCs to manage system backups and share files. It also gives home users and invited guests remote access to the server.
Schedule backups, access files, and more
Windows Home Server lets users schedule backups from multiple PCs. Its Drive Extender feature allows multiple PCs to back up to the server without using too much storage space. Backups are incremental, copying only files that have changed since the last backup.
A Restore tool permits users to restore earlier versions of files from the server, even retrieving data that was backed up from PCs no longer on the network.
The Windows Home Server console monitors drive status and health. In addition, a nifty diagnostic tool called Health Monitoring checks PCs on the network and indicates which systems may have outdated virus definitions or need better firewall protection.
Windows Home Server's remote access feature allows users to retrieve files from any PC on the network, and also provides virtual desktop access like that offered by GoToMyPC and PCAnywhere. Microsoft says it will work to offer domain names so that visiting a home server will be as easy as typing in a Web address.
The remote access feature also lets users make their media library available from any Internet-connected PC; through a public folder, users can share digital content with the world.
The Windows Media Connect feature streams TV shows, movies, photos, and music to PCs and Xbox 360 gaming consoles on the home network. Unfortunately, however, the Windows Media Server cannot stream content to remote users.
HP's MediaSmart Server connects to a home network router, and similar servers could include USB ports for adding other external storage devices.
Microsoft says that by the time Windows Home Server ships, it hopes to streamline network configuration with router manufacturers. Right now configuring remote access to a home server or a network-attached storage device can be a serious hassle. However, Windows Home Server allows users to add drives without having to power down.
In addition to the HP server, on display were ten early prototype working servers from Advanced Micro Devices, Inventec, Quanta Computer, and other Microsoft hardware partners.
AMD Live Home Media Server is optimized for Microsoft Windows Home Server.
Inventec's working prototype may resemble a wastebasket, but it features two 500GB drives and is expandable. Inventec says its home server is extremely quiet and would be appropriate for any room of the house.
Microsoft's own prototype home server looks a bit like iRobot's Roomba vacuum cleaner.