Last night I took my first steps with the released version of Windows Home Server. Here are my initial thoughts:
- I should have paid $600 for the HP model, the install was excruciating and took forever.
- They did a heck of a job creating the installer and the deployment tools. The initial stage of the install looks like Windows Server 2008 / Vista and had all the drivers for my Intel 965 chipset so no floppy needed for a SATA controller (SiS)
- RTFM: Needs an 76Gb drive or better
- Headless or RDP? So the idea is that this server is deployed headless, but you have to activate it, but you shouldn’t log into it, but you have to install an antivirus on it because it doesn’t have one.
- Addins: Not very intuitive at all, comes as an installation package (.msi) but what do you do with it? RDP and install? Open on the desktop? (you actually dump into \\server\software\add-ins if you’re curious)
- Pushy: When I deployed the client software it wanted to run a backup within a minute. Whoa, whoa, wait a minute. I just got this new toy and you want to destroy my network and my ability to play with it first? (something can be learned from Apple here). When I told it to defer the backup it wanted to run it an hour later. It gave me no options of what I wanted to back up, so I am assuming it would have tried to squeeze everything over.
- Interesting documentation. I have mixed feelings about this because I tried to behave like a stupid user would. Stupid user would never be able to get the WHS online. I first let it have a go at my hardened firewall, it failed. Then I let it go at a stock WRT-54G router, which is probably the most widely used wifi device on the planet. No go again. Then I followed the documentation – they wanted 3389 redirected. Ok, not a problem – no go either. Then I decided to do what a user would have done – stuck it in a DMZ. All worked! Yay! This is where the user would likely have stopped, leaving a box on their home network wide open.
- Patching: Impressive. It powered itself on, patched itself without a click and told me it would be right back.
- Remote access: Impressive. Just… impressive.
- Backup tool: Impressive.
These are my initial thoughts and I went through them as a user. I have to admit that as a user I am really not interested in WHS at all, I have a far more sinister commercial interest in WHS… WHOS to be precise (Windows Home-Office Server) but I wanted to look at this solution through the users eyes and frankly I would be a little confused because it is a little rough around the edges.. I’d probably return it to the store. It’s not an Xbox, that’s for sure, and frankly, home users are the ones with questions like “Should I be installing those Microsoft things it nags me to get (software updates)” – they wouldn’t figure this out.
However, assuming a proper setup and better OOB (out of box) experience, this is one solid puppy. It could have had a bit more of an Apple or even Xbox touch to be a killer product – for example, it follows the broken Microsoft El Generico disease they have had since friggin clippy “Learn more about Remote Access to computers” on the front page, with a stock Microsoft image. Just how many lines of code would it have taken to pluck an image from my library and make my first impression of the remote console a little bit more personal? Going to the picture library gives me the same 1996 look and feel of upload, download and search… how about preview? How about thumbnails?
Extensibility. The real appeal of the WHS solution to me is in its extensibility – this beast already has the ability to run a DHCP server, Windows SharePoint Services 3.0, and even manage home appliances and automation tasks. But, you wouldn’t know about those. Why? Well, the add-in section of the Windows Home Server site looks like a high school science fair report while the promotional site looks like a million bucks.
So to sum it up, my first impression is that this is absolutely amazing and has a ton of potential but I hope they spend money to polish it instead of spending money trying to sell it because as-is, my parents would return this to Best Buy. I am really looking forward to playing with it some more.