I've been running various beta versions of Microsoft's Windows Home Server for the past year or so. I have found it to be a very solid product that fills some very specific needs that I have:
- It creates recoverable backups over every PC on my home network
- It provides redundant, network storage for every PC on my home network
- It makes the process of managing and recovering the data on all of the PCs on my home network very easy
So I was a bit surprised when David Berlind's trashed WHS on ZDNet in a post titled "Will Windows Home Server be Microsoft's next flop?" He basically dismisses the product for going against the market trends toward online storage and for being hard to use (among other things). What he fails to mention is if he even used the product.
He talks a lot about the PR materials he has read and about his own project to build a Linux-based home server a few years ago (that didn't work out very well); however, he never says that he has actually tried the Windows Home Server beta.
And if you go on to read the entire article, you see that he doesn't really have a problem with the Windows Home Server OS. He has a problem with the whole idea of a server in the home because it is too "complicated." He says:
"Today, if you ask me, given the alternatives (especially the online ones), it doesn’t make any sense. Of all the different kinds of technology I’d like to have in my house, something as complicated as a computer running a server operating system is at the bottom of the list."
Had he actually used Windows Home Server, I think he would have found that it is surprisingly easy to use and maintain. I have 6 PCs running in my home. All of them are backed up every night to WHS. All of the "management" of the server takes place on the client side with a small dashboard app. I haven't needed to touch that app in months. A small icon in the client machine's taskbar shows me that Windows Home Server is protecting the PC and whether or not there are no problems with the server. Can't ask for much more maintenance-free operation than that.
Another fatal flaw of WHS, according to Berlind, is its lack of integrated online services. He says:
"Longer term, for local hardware (even appliances like NAS devices) to stay relevant, they’ll need to be bundled with online services. Let’s say you do want to put a central NAS device on your network. Much the same way today’s cheap wireless printers are configurable through their front panels, the NAS makers will find a way for you to programmatically keep your NAS(es) mirrored to an online service so that, if the NAS should ever fail (and it will), recovery will be almost as simple as getting a replacement NAS unit. Turnkey solutions like this are much closer to what consumers and small businesses want than solutions that require administrative expertise."
Had he done his homework, he would have found that WHS supports 3rd-party Add-ins (which are installed from the same simple client-side dashboard app that requires absolutely zero "administrative expertise"). In fact, Microsoft recently held the Code2Fame Challenge to find the best ones. The 2nd place winner was Jungle Disk which allows you to back up your Windows Home Server machine to Amazon's S3 online storage service.
Berlind uses photosharing as another example of a service that only needs to be online (Although he never asks "What if Flickr goes out of business or their servers fail" the way he asks about what happens when a hard drive fails on a WHS box). Again, there is a Windows Home Server Add-in called PhotoSync that I use (and reviewed here). It allows you to automatically upload any photos that you store on your WHS box to Flickr. Setup is dead simple and requires no ongoing maintenance.
Berlind even went so far to say that, if there were a market for a home server, Apple would have already made a better one by now (Does that mean there isn't a market for gaming consoles either, David?).
"My first thought on the idea of a home server is that Apple would have done it already if the market wanted it (and done it better than anybody else could hope to do it). In fact, in many ways, Apple’s offering of AppleTV serves as evidence that architecturally, the last thing consumers want to do in their houses is push data from one PC to another."
How does he make the connection between the AppleTV and WHS? Has Apple sold enough AppleTVs to draw any conclusions about what consumers want? If they have learned anything, it's that people don't want to buy a $300 box and then spend $20 for low-res, DRM-laden movies. Don't see how this applies to the home server market, but did find it funny that AppleTV was used as his example.
I could go on and on; however, I feel like I should probably take it easy on David until he has a chance to actually use the product :) So what do you say, David? Why don't you try Windows Home Server for a few weeks. If you don't like it, I'll shave my head. If you do like Windows Home Server, you shave yours. (For those not familiar with David's blog, he recently challenged Robbie Bach, who oversees the Zune for Microsoft, to shave his head if the Zune didn't move into second place (behind the iPod) by the end of the holiday shopping season).