Microsoft nears Home Server release

Software maker says it's ready with a near-final "release candidate," with a final version due later this year.

Microsoft's Home Server software is one step closer to reality.

The software maker on Tuesday released a near-final "release candidate" version of Windows Home Server, a custom version of its Windows Server 2003 operating system. A final version is expected to come out later this year. Microsoft is pitching the software as an option for multi-PC households to manage burgeoning collections of media files.

Chairman Bill Gates announced plans for the product at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, saying that HP would build a product based on the software. At last month's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC), Microsoft announced additional partners, including Gateway and Medion.

Microsoft said that those interested in testing the new software can register on Microsoft's Web site. More than 100,000 people have already been testing earlier versions of the software.