Content Finally Finds a Home

In a small section of the vast Microsoft pavilion, sits a device that may change the way digital media is managed in the home. Today at CES in Las Vegas, Microsoft unveiled it’s new Windows Home Server. And while it is still not clear exactly how this product will enter the marketplace and what the expected cost will be, one thing IS certain: The concept is long overdue.

I can’t speak for other people’s homes, but I know what mine is like. A PC in my office. A PC in my kids room. A WiFi network to allow me to roam around with my laptop. A variety of networked devices including settop DVRs and Game Consoles. And new devices seemingly being added monthly. Managing the media on all these disparate platforms is an effort in futility.

The new Home Server device is designed to sit at the heart of the connected household. It will act as a central storage and management hub for the diverse variety of content that is consumed in the home. Store your pictures, your video, your important documents, your games, etc. on the Home Server. When you need them, they can be easily accessed from a variety of consumption devices. Including your Xbox. Handy? Yes. Definitely. But for many of us who have some experience with computers, much of this can be accomplished with the use of file shares on your desktop systems.

But here’s the thing that sold me: The Windows Home Server is also a Web Server. It is based on a deployment of IIS and comes with an out-of-the-box interface that allows your content to be shared and consumed over the web. Want to send your Mother pictures of her grandkids? Share your vacation videos with your Sister? MP3s of your garage band handiwork with your buddies across the country? If the content is already on your Home Server, just send them a link. The server supports up to 10 concurrent connections, which should be more than ample for the average home. And since the server is a true IIS box, it can be used to serve custom web pages. Host your own website right from your home. No more hosting fees and nearly unlimited storage! And since you can connect to it over the web, this means you can have access to all of your personal files while travelling.

Another very attractive feature of the system, (as if this wasn’t enough) is it’s ability to be used as a central backup device for your network. Simply load the client software on your Vista or XP PCs and back them all up to the Windows Home Server. Now, when you have a drive crash on your office computer, instead of stepping off the nearest cliff, you can easily restore your precious data from the backups on your Home Server.

Sources at the show indicate that the new Windows Home Server OS will not be available as a download for existing hardware, but rather it will be a bundled Hardware solution. This does disappoint me somewhat, as I usually prefer to use my own expertise in selecting reliable hardware based on my needs and network architecture. However, from what I am being told, we should expect to see the Windows Home Server offered by a number of first-class hardware manufacturers in a variety of flexible configurations.