Windows

A first look: Inside Windows Home Server (Customer Technology Preview)

Microsoft has released its latest version of Windows Home Server (WHS) to beta testers. Shawn Morton takes you inside the WHS console and examines the capabilities and limitations of this application.

This article is also available as a TechRepublic gallery and as a TechRepublic download.

Recently, Microsoft released its latest version of Windows Home Server (WHS) to beta testers. The following screens take you inside the WHS console.

Login screen

WHS uses a very simple login screen (Figure A). Provide the server password and you're in!

Figure A

Login

Computers and backup

The first screen you'll see after logging into your WHS console is the Computers & Backup tab (Figure B). It shows you all of the clients that are connected to WHS, the operating system each is running, and whether they are backed up.

The reason two of the PCs are grayed out in this screenshot is that I had just installed the latest version of WHS and had not yet run the Home PC Connector CD on the other two machines.

Figure B

Computers and Backup

User Accounts

The User Accounts screen shows you all of the users who are set up to access WHS on your network (Figure C). Information about each account includes whether it is enabled and whether it can connect remotely to the WHS box from the Web.

An interesting thing about user accounts is that they need to match the account on the client PC. So if your username is "JoeSchmoe" and your password is "12345," your WHS logon name and password need to be "JoeSchmoe" and "12345."

After getting your user account set up, you only need the server password to access WHS.

Figure C

User Accounts

Shared Folders

The Shared Folders screen shows all of the default and custom shares on your WHS box (Figure D). By default, WHS creates Music, Photos, Public, Software and Video. It also creates a new share for each account listed on the User Accounts tab.

When you run the Home PC Connector CD in a client machine, each of the default shares is automatically added to the client PC. While setting up shared folders isn't difficult, it is a nice shortcut to have built into the software. You definitely won't be answering questions like "Where do my photos go on the server?"

If one copy of your files isn't enough, you can choose to duplicate any share on your WHS box by toggling the Duplication setting (the fourth column from the left) to On. The default state for Duplication is Off.

Figure D

Shared Folders

Server Storage

The Server Storage screen shows the available drives in your WHS box (Figure E). I have two 300GB Seagate drives in my box. The drive with the WHS OS is noted with a small Windows icon.

In addition to showing the capacity, location, and health of each drive, WHS also shows you the total storage available in the right sidebar. The pie chart breaks down the storage into Shared Folders, Duplication, PC Backups, Operating System, and Free Space.

Figure E

Server Storage

Network Health

WHS uses the term "Network Health" to describe the state of backups on your network (Figure F). If all of your client PCs are backed up and there aren't any patches or updates for WHS, your network will be "healthy."

The same green shield icon is used on each client PC in the taskbar. With it, you can see the state of your network as well as log into the WHS console.

Figure F

Network Health

Settings | General

The General Settings screen (Figure G) allows you to set or change the time, date, and language. It also lets you set your Windows Update, Customer Experience Improvement, and Windows Error Reporting settings.

Figure G

General settings

Settings | Backup

The Backup Settings screen allows you to set the range of time when backups will occur, set up the number of backups to keep, and clean out any old backups you choose (Figure H).

Figure H

Backup settings

Settings | Passwords

On the Passwords Settings screen, you can change your WHS password or update your Password Policy. By default, WHS uses the Medium setting (Figure I).

Figure I

Passwords

Settings | Media Sharing

The Media Sharing screen allows you to choose which of your media shares you want to share with other computers or devices on your network (Figure J). By turning this on, other PCs can access your files. It also allows digital media receivers or an XBOX 360 to access your media collection.

Figure J

Media sharing

Settings | Remote Access

The Remote Access Settings screen allows you to configure your WHS box and your router so that your WHS box will be available outside your network (Figure K). Microsoft is currently using the livenode.com domain name to support remote WHS boxes. Your URL will be structured as yourservername.livenode.com.

Figure K

Remote Access

Settings | Add-ins

The Add-ins screen, which is new in the Customer Technology Preview version of WHS, allows you to install custom MSI-based apps on your server (Figure L). Now that the WHS SDK is available, we should see some new add-ins available soon.

Figure L

Add-ins

Settings | Resources

The Resources Settings screen shows you the basic configuration of your WHS box, including software versions and basic hardware specs (Figure M).

Figure M

Resources
14 comments
footlessRabbit
footlessRabbit

Like what I see so far for those that don't want to hire or contract out for a IT guy on monthly basis. This could be used well for startup shops and home offices. However, from an IT guys perspective, I don't see much here that I couldn't do from a single W2k3 server with WMI scripting. One feature, the WSUS-like item, embeded in this version is really a must for non-power user or IT staffed sites. I know alot a small shops that are, shall we say, 'update-resistant'. I am concerned, however, about that xbox media services mentioned? Is it possible to expound on that, anyone? (I don't currently have a spare pc to try this on)

JCitizen
JCitizen

Would a guy be able to set this up on the DMZ and still access the LAN side? Some of the new UltraVNC versions have SSH or SSL but they are real hard to configure.

TexasJetter
TexasJetter

One of the things not made clear in the article is that you not only have access to the WHS machine remotely, but your client PC's as well. I have that Beta 2 running and was able to use a Dynamic DNS to my machine, where I could log on remotely to my individual machine. I was pretty impressed with the speed and functionality, especially since I was going through my home DSL. In fact it left me wondering, if they can do this for WHS, why can't they do it for the commercial product?

rick_stark
rick_stark

The feature you are looking for in SMB 2003 is remote workplace. It work very well at alowing home users in remote desktop and is very easy to configure.

allan_subs
allan_subs

This same functionality is already implemented in Small Business Server 2003, where you browse to a url/remote page, log in and among other things have access to both the server and any other client machines (XP) on your network. I know of several small businesses using this for remote access, rather than implementing a full-blown terminal server. It works amazingly well and is very responsive.

eric.nesvick
eric.nesvick

I believe they are including a RDP gateway in longhorn. This functionality has existed for years though if you use Citrix. It can do all of this and more.

joe
joe

i dont get it, why use WHS when we have VNC

JCitizen
JCitizen

I'll definitly check in to that!

suresh.maslamoney
suresh.maslamoney

Hi Allan, Do you have an url's with more info on this RDP feature ? I did a search on Microsoft, but did'nt find anything useful. Thanks Suresh

TexasJetter
TexasJetter

I paid much attention to longhorn (shame on me) but that would be cool. I know Citrix can do a lot, but I have never really wanted to get into all that. WHS for home was very easy. If they can do that for the office it would be nice - of course for no charge :)

TexasJetter
TexasJetter

VNC in my experience is ok, but not real good in terms of screen updates and fluid control. WHS remote control seemed much better, and allowed for more control over desktop size. Additionally it allows for remote control of more than one computer. Using WHS remote I can get to either my or my wife's computer. If using VNC to my home DSL it would directed to only one machine. Beyond the remote control WHS auto backups greatly simplify backup and restore management.

pcomputerpro
pcomputerpro

all you need to do with your vnc is setup port forwarding in your router and you can access any of the pcs on your network

bag
bag

I understand that WHS is not Free either but if you need WHS for other reasons... the remote solutions included with it is pretty neat.

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