An Advanced Windows Home Server? No!

Todd Headrick of Microsoft’s Windows Home Server team (hi, Todd!) has an interesting post on the official WHS blog, asking for thoughts on whether the next version should be split into Basic and Advanced versions:

we are back in the product planning phase and culling through all of these suggestions. What if we had 2 versions of Windows Home Server – one for the "basic" household and one for the more "advanced" household. What should we think about using as limits for the number of users and computers for a "basic" version and for an "advanced" version?

For me, the answer is easy. Please, please, please do not release a separate SKU. The basic product allows you to connect up to 10 computers and have 10 user accounts. The product is built on Windows Server 2003, which already has the capability to accommodate additional users by adding licenses. So find a way to let me buy an addition 5-pack or 10-pack of licenses for that server for a reasonable price ($10 per seat sounds about right).

The trouble with splitting into different versions is that the temptation to start segmenting features becomes irresistible. Oh, you want the Frammis service? You’ll have to upgrade to the advanced version. Arrrggghhh!

The original design philosophy of Windows Home Server was (and still is) to be a device that is simple to set up and use and whose functionality can be extended with add-ins and services. For a refresher in that design philosophy, go back and read this post from Charlie Kindel of the WHS team. Although it applies to the storage subsystem, the concepts apply equally to the rest of the product. Here are the first two bullet points from that list:

Must be extremely simple to use. Must not add any new concepts or terminology average consumers would not understand. Simple operations should be simple and there should not be any complex operations.

Must be infinitely & transparently extendible. Users should be able to just plug in more hard drives and the amount of storage available should just grow accordingly. There should be no arbitrary limits to the kinds of hard drives used. Users should be able to plug in any number of drives.  Different brands, sizes, and technologies should be able to be mixed without the user having to worry about details.

Those are really good ideas. Please keep it simple, folks.

18 thoughts on “An Advanced Windows Home Server? No!

  1. Well, I gotta chuckle at the “must be extremely simple to use” mandate. I guess I am “server challenged” because it’s been a super steep learning curve for me. As a Tech Net subscriber I have downloaded Server 2008 and tried to make sense of it, but had much trouble just figuring things out.

    But thanks to your links in this article I may be a few steps farther ahead now, especially with the connection software and troubleshooting software info that were made available in the Todd piece.

    I don’t even NEED a server, but the challenge of making it work gives me the mental exercise I need to keep my brain agile.

  2. Hey, mgo, hang on. You’re talking about Windows Server 2008, which is an industrial-strength full-fledged server. I’m talking about Windows Home Server, which is a completely different animal.

    So yeah, WS2008 is conceptually difficult for someone who doesn’t have a server background. WHS is very, very easy.

  3. Thanks for the response, Ed. Yes, the email is a dummy address to keep out spammers, and of course that does NOT include you. Sorry for the inconvenience.

    I finally understand the difference in Windows Home Server vs. Server 2008! Your reply helped a lot!

  4. Ed
    You have hit it on the head. Way too often these days mfrs. take something great and ‘Make It Improved’. For added cost, version upgrade.

    Leave WHS alone. It is a product that fills a void that has long been ignored, and does it well. MS would be well advised to use its development process as a learning tool.

    As much as I love the ‘Gang from the North’ they don’t often get it right first shot out of the box. With WHS they did!


  5. Apologies for the misspellings in the post. No animals were harmed in the production.

    I have a 20 year old Northgate OmniKey keyboard that is on it’s last legs. I guess I do need to chuck it and get a new keyboard. Oh ‘Woe is me’, I do love this old surfboard,

    Sorry Ed.


  6. Bill, I cleaned up those typos for you. One of these days I’ll get a plugin that will let readers edit their own comments…

    I know lots of people who loved their Northgate keyboards. But 20 years? That might be a record!

  7. A very smart suggestion – the last thing they need is SKU proliferation.

    Semi-related: Has HP released their server update with the data corruption fix? A month or so ago I got some trial offerware for the server and the client code was updated, but maybe I missed the real server update.

  8. What I’d love to see is a WHS meets Media Center type product. With the advent of extenders, having a true headless server that not only shares files/content, also is the central recording as well.

    Right now I have two boxes, one for Media Center and one for WHS, having the “simplicity” of WHS with the “coolness” of media center would be a great product.


  9. Being a Media Center fan one thing I think needs to be added to WHS (Basic or Advanced versions) is dedicated Recorded TV folder, so Media Center and WHS can be more integrated.

    Right now recorded TV from WHS will not show up the Media Centers recorded TV list without using gpedit or registry setting (shared permissions) on the recorded TV folder on the Windows Home Server

  10. CALs sound good as long as they are easy to add. Still Microsoft is probably scared of businesses using this for their uses…

    My biggest request after CALs would be advanced features made into plug-ins if not put in the base install, and of course, basing the code on 2k8.

  11. I agree – keep it simple! We have enough issues with the various flavors of Vista, this should be a lesson to the WHS team. The concept of WHS makes most sense to NewEgg early adopters, the BestBuy masses have yet to get it. Grow the ecosystem and add-ons, avoid the snafu’s of v1 and continue to improve the home management system for home users.

  12. @9 – thanks very much for the tip. A little spelunking and comparing version numbers/names with your referenced post showed that the server had applied the updates auto magically which, of course, is just what it is supposed to do.

  13. I just spent five minutes searching for information about the frammis service. Thankfully, there is urban dictionary. In the process, I did sign up for Live Mesh. I like it so far and look forward to exploring more of its features.

  14. Does anyone who uses WHS know if it can connect with Media Center? This would be a big deal for me. If not, they definitely should include that in the next version. And a Mac client would be nice too!

  15. Robert, any Media Center PC (XP or Vista) can connect to a Windows Home Server. In fact, I store my music and pictures and videos on a WHS and play them back through Media Center. Works great.

    There are certainly opportunities for greater integration between Media Center and WHS, but they do work together now, and there are some hacks that can enable scenarios that aren’t officially supported.

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