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BrustBlog Pontifications on Microsoft and the Tech Industry

Pardon my lack of posts of late…I am now the author of Redmond Developer NewsRedmond Review column, and I’ve been grappling with how to write the column and keep posting here.  I’ll ask you to continue bearing with me.  While the column will focus on strategy and analysis for working with Microsoft and its stack, there are still plenty of topics that don’t fit there and do fit here. 

Here’s on such topic: Windows Home Server (WHS), and the quiet release, back in June, of Power Pack 1.  Before the release of Power Pack 1, WHS had a nasty bug: under certain circumstances, when saving files from an application directly to a share on the WHS box, your file could be corrupted.  Never mind that WHS still worked perfectly fine when files were copied to it rather than saved directly to it.  Never mind the amazing simple RAID-like disk spanning technology WHS offers, allowing you to pool numerous internal and external drives into a single mirrored volume capable of handling massive amounts of media files.  Never mind that WHS offered (and continues to offer) one of the most reliable and foolproof backup solutions for home networks in the industry (read Scott Hanselman’s post on this subject if you don’t believe me).  Never mind how easy WHS made (and makes) it for you to have Remote Desktop access to all your home PCs over the Internet.  It didn’t matter.  The press still had a field day with the file corruption bug, and Microsoft didn’t help matters by taking a very long time to address the issue.

But address it Microsoft did.  With the release of Power Pack 1, the file corruption bug is gone.  Vista 64–bit clients are now fully supported (they weren’t before).  And you can now run backups of your WHS folders (as opposed to just the client machines) onto removable external drives. 

Plus, there’s an important ancillary feature that’s workable now: you can turn on the Offline Files feature for a WHS share, allowing you to, say, transfer photos from your camera to the offline copy of your WHS Photos share on your laptop while away from home, then have those photos automatically be pushed up to the server as soon as your laptop is reconnected to your home network.  If your setup is correctly configured, these photos can then be seen on Windows Media Center PCs or Extenders, or even non-Microsoft streaming media clients like DVRs and game consoles, without any additional effort.  Use the PhotoSync add-in for WHS, and these photos can even be automatically uploaded to Flickr.

And speaking of add-ins, there are a ton of them.  This is classic Microsoft ecosystem building at work.  Add-ins are available for document storage, disk defragmentation, off-site backup (via Amazon’s S3 storage Web service), UPS monitoring, Web site creation, media management and more.  The best place to go for a comprehensive list of add-in is the Add-ins section of the WHS site/blog  It’s not the only WHS site out there, but it’s the quintessential one, in my opinion.  Steven Kerr’s video blog is a great resource as well.

This is an amazing product, and it’s available cheaply.  You can buy the “system builder” edition of the software for as little as $99 (the price was recently reduced by 30%) and build your own WHS box, or you can buy ready-made systems (i.e. small form-factor servers with the software pre-installed).  The most popular of the latter category is the HP MediaSmart Server, available for $499 from Amazon (for the 500GB version), but there are several others out there.

It’s fairly typical of the tech industry press (and perhaps the mainstream press as well) to cover a story very comprehensively when a product’s at fault.  But the remediation of WHS’s file corruption bug has been one of the worst-covered, stealthiest stories out there.  Regardless, there is now a fantastic product out there and, combined with its aggressive pricing, it offers immense value.

Posted on Sunday, December 7, 2008 8:33 PM | Back to top

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