High Hub Hopes: Microsoft’s Home Server

With Microsoft’s announcement of the Windows Home Server launch yesterday, the propaganda machines on both sides of the aisle are heating up. On one end, people are claiming that Windows Home Server will soon prove to be the one product that will finally revolutionize the way we enjoy movies and music in our homes. On the other, there is the claim Windows Home Server is nothing more than a mass storage device that can do everything a NAS storage device can do now. And while that may make sense to some, the real benefit of Windows Home Server is its ability to store huge amounts of data, allowing you to access your files from anywhere in the world.
Medion Home ServerMore than anything else, two features of the multimedia industry have emerged over the past year: People want the devices in their homes to talk to each other, and those same people are more than willing to watch video on their computer screens. In fact, the head of Alcatel’s (ALA) fixed communications division, Michel Rahier, stated just last year that he believes “there will be about 100 million subscribers to IPTV by 2010.” And while this does not necessarily mean that all of those people will be watching shows on their computers, it makes Windows Home Server an even more valuable commodity in the home.

All of the devices running Windows Home Server, such as the HP MediaSmart Server, can not only store over 1TB of data, but can communicate with any devices in your home that are compatible with Windows Media Connect 2.0 and DLNA. So far, Microsoft (MSFT) has said that the Roku Soundbridge will work perfectly fine with Windows Home Server, and most importantly, the Xbox 360 will communicate with any server in your home. In effect, Windows Home Server could become the central hub where you store all of your media and transfer that media to devices throughout your home. And while this may be possible now with single computers, Microsoft has made it much easier.
But perhaps most compelling, Windows Home Server doesn’t lock you down to just one home. If you’re away from home and you want to grab a movie or music from the server, the system will allow you to surf over to a Live page designated to that server and access any and all files on it. And while your first thought may lead you to doubt the usefulness of this feature because of copyright issues, the barriers to entry are quite low — as Microsoft explained to me, as long as you have iTunes installed on the host computer and you want to play a song from your iTunes library on your server, it will play.
But in the end, the real question is whether or not Windows Home Server can become the “digital hub” Microsoft wants it to be. Simply put, the answer is “maybe.” While Windows Home Server obviously has quite a bit of promise, its success is reliant upon increased music and movie downloads and the desire of people to stream media from one device to another. But if the trend continues and broadband speeds increase to a point where movie downloads become commonplace, Windows Home Server may become the easiest solution for those who want to store, remotely access, and stream media. And when that day does become a reality, look for Windows Home Server to lead the charge.
Don Reisinger is a freelance technology journalist who covers everything from Google to HDTVs. He currently writes for over 15 popular technology publications, including CNET’s Digital Home, InformationWeek and PC World.