Windows Home Server really available, sort of

Microsoft announces "general availability" for the home server operating system, although that's a bit of a stretch. HP's server won't be available until later this month, while other makers are waiting even longer.

Bill Gates announced Windows Home Server to much fanfare at January's Consumer Electronics Show.

The energy seems to have dwindled some during the product's elongated path to market over the past year. Microsoft finalized the code back in July, but HP said it would wait for an update to the software before releasing its MediaSmart server, in what was seen as the biggest endorsement of the product.

On Monday, Microsoft announced "general availability" for the software, although HP's product will not be shipping to consumers until later this month. Some servers from smaller computer makers have been available for a short while, though it's not totally clear what marks today as the day for general availability.

Medion and Fujistu Siemens still plan releases in Europe later this year, while Iomega's product is not aimed for arrival until next year.

Even when HP does start shipping its MediaSmart server in the next few weeks, the product is not expected to be a staple on store shelves. CompUSA is planning to sell it in some stores, while Circuit City and Best Buy are only committing to online availability for now, according to Microsoft. Other online retailers, such as Buy.com and Amazon.com, are also expected to sell HP's server, while Microsoft is holding out hope that retail availability will improve later in the year.

Amazon has started taking preorders for HP's server, which as of mid-morning Monday had climbed to the top of Amazon's best-seller list in the computer category.

The idea of a simple server to serve as a repository for media such as photos, music, and video holds some appeal, but it is something most consumers are going to have to learn more about and see and touch before being sold on the idea. That's going to be tough to accomplish with limited marketing and limited retail presence.

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