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Windows Home Server: The ideal home backup solution?

According to Microsoft officials, this new solution could solve all of your backup problems and help you immediately restore your entire system to an earlier day if your hard drive dies.

I recently had the opportunity to meet with two Microsoft officials to discuss Windows Home Server. According to Microsoft officials, this new solution could solve all of your backup problems and help you immediately restore your entire system to an earlier day if your hard drive dies suddenly. Could this be the saving grace we have all been waiting for? Read on and decide for yourself.

Although the product is still in development, the Windows Home Server (WHS) is very much a new category of home products. Accommodating almost 15 million households in the U.S. alone, WHS is designed for homes that run more than one computer. The premise is simple: the WHS software installs on each computer in your home and helps centralize all of the data on each system in one central location. Once each machine is setup, all of the data on each computer is backed up and protected for future use.

Windows Home Server Setup
Home Server Setup Microsoft

The sad fact is most people just don't back up their data. For example, the last time I backed up my systems was probably a good two or three months ago. If one of my computers crashes, tons of sensitive data will be gone forever. Windows Home Server will try to fix this problem by automatically performing a full-system backup the first time you set up a computer and will back up any modified folders from then on. In essence, mistakes can be fixed in a flash.

Much like Windows Vista, Windows Home Server is a software solution. But to get the system up and running, you will need to purchase a hardware server from a third party. As of this writing, HP and about eight other companies have signed on to manufacture third-party servers. HP--a "Premier" Microsoft partner--is currently working on a MediaSmart server that will feature four internal drive bays and four USB ports so you can plug up to eight hard drives into the system. Priced in the sub-$1,000 range, the HP server will come with 500GB to 1TB of storage built-in, but you can easily add empty hard drives to the server if you need more storage space. When you get the product, Microsoft's software will be preinstalled on the server and it will come with a program to install on your home PCs.

HP MediaSmart Server
HP MediaSmart Server HP

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sick and tired of drive letters and evidently, Microsoft is as well. In the WHS, all drive letters will be gone and all of the information will be centralized in one area. Although I haven't had the opportunity to use the product yet, Microsoft assured me that an intelligent file folder system will accompany the product making it easy to find files from any day and either copy them back to your computer or copy them to a different system. For a bit more organization, the server will feature different user names that will correspond to the computers. So, if you don't want to search all of the machines and you want a specific file from your son's computer, simply click on his user name and you will only see his computer.

Windows Home Server Shared Files Folder
Shared Files Folder Microsoft

The current version of WHS is Windows only. That said, you can still back up material on a Mac or Linux machine, but the auto-backup feature that runs every night will only work on a Windows system.

Perhaps the most useful feature in the WHS platform is the ability to access files and folders remotely. Upon installing the software and backing up your data, you will be given access to a Web server and a unique Web address through Windows Live Domain. While you're away from home, simply surf your way to the specified address and input your admin user name and password. Upon doing so, you will immediately have access to any file or folder you may have left at home.

Besides backing up, Windows Home Server is also a media device that effectively shares music, movies and photos throughout the home. The HP MediaSmart server will also include a PhotoShare and iTunes server feature so you can quickly view your pictures or play your favorite songs on any computer in the house.

Because of the obvious copyright implications, music will only play on a different computer if it has the same software installed. In other words, Yahoo music songs from your computer will only play on your mother's computer if she has Yahoo music installed as well. If not, then you're out of luck.

Windows Home Server also streams music to devices like your Xbox 360 or a Roku Soundbridge. Although streaming isn't exclusive to these two products, Windows Media Connect must be supported by any device you want to stream music to.

Although it's being billed as a family device that connects the home like never before, it seems the Windows Home Server may be aimed at those who know the perils of spyware and antivirus. Although the server will most likely copy harmful code onto your Home Server, it will also keep a full image of your drive in case you lose all of your data. Having lived through the awful system restore process, the ability to get my system back up and running in a matter of minutes would be just one reason to purchase this product. That said, I haven't had the chance to use it yet (I should be getting it in a few weeks), so while this may sound nice on paper, it may not work as planned when I test it out.

Look for an exhaustive hands-on evaluation with the Windows Home Server in the coming weeks to see if the product lives up to the high expectations. Until then, surf on over to the Windows Home Server page for more information.