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HP upgrading Home Server lineup, Apple may follow suit

MediaSmart servers get multi-platform support in January. Will Apple announce similar product at Macworld Expo?

HP MediaSmart Server

Hewlett-Packard announced Monday that it is upgrading its MediaSmart server lineup with new, more powerful hardware and, more importantly, with software support for Macs and improved over-the-Net streaming of users' media files. (A software update will allow users of existing MediaSmart boxes to access some of the new features.) Also Monday, 9to5Mac speculated that one of the Macworld announcements in January will be an expanded Time Capsule product with similar features.

Currently, HP's MediaSmart servers, running Microsoft's Windows Home Server software, cannot serve as backup platforms for Macs running the Time Machine backup software, and data stored on a WHS product is available only in a very limited fashion over the open Internet. Similarly, Apple's current Time Capsule backup appliance does not come with backup software for Windows PCs, and does not support media sharing over the Net.

The time is right for products like these, and more so for those that don't presume that families are running homogeneous environments. Any household with more than one computer and one digital camera is likely suffering from confusion in organizing and finding media, and centralized home hubs could be a big help. The living-room side of the equation still needs to be figured out, though. People want to get their photos and videos onto the big screens in their living spaces. While there are several decent digital media options for the home media center, many are too expensive or too complex for the mainstream audience (the Xbox 360 being perhaps a notable exception, as my colleague Josh Lowensohn has reminded me repeatedly).

My personal take: I own a first-generation HP MediaSmart server and have been very frustrated to find that my new MacBook couldn't access it to do a Time Machine backup. I blame Apple for this, primarily--without a hack, its software will only back up over the network to its own overpriced Time Capsule appliances. So I'm glad to see support coming for my particular configuration. I'm also really looking forward to having better access to my media files when I am not at home.

There's an in-depth review of the new HP MediaSmart server on the fan site MediaSmartServer.Net.