Introducing Windows Home Server

How to back up, sync, share, play, and remotely access everything

By Mark Carpenter

Let’s see…there’s the desktop that I’ve had for five years. And the new laptop that I bought last year. Not to mention my wife’s PowerBook. Quite frankly, things were starting to get out of hand. My wife and I have pictures and music files spread over all of our computers and it was getting harder and harder to keep track of everything. And more importantly, it was harder to keep everything safe.

Finally, I found the solution. For the last several months I’ve been using Windows Home Server and keeping everything up to date is now easier than ever!

What's a home server?

When I first mentioned the idea of getting a home server to my wife, her first reaction was, “Like at work? That sounds complicated.” Well, yes, like at work, but it’s not that complicated. I’m certainly not a network administrator, so the thought of setting up and running a server at home was a little bit daunting. But, in fact, I barely even had to mess with it at all.

A Windows Home Server is really just another computer with a whole lot of storage built into it. To set it up, all I had to do was to create user accounts for me and my wife. The server automatically creates shares, which are just folders that everyone with access to the server can use to store and share files.

Picture of the Windows Home Server console
You don't have to be a network administrator to use Windows Home Server

While many new computers these days come with pretty big hard drives, one of the main advantages of having Windows Home Server is that it’s very easy to add and replace hard drives, and you can do it without even turning the server off. The ability to store data across multiple hard drives also makes the server a valuable asset in helping protect our data. What it does is pool all of the storage available on your hard drives and make it all available as one location.

It also duplicates your data. What this means is that there are two copies of every file you save, and it makes sure that the two copies are stored on different drives. That means that if one of your hard drives fails, you won’t lose your data.

Sharing files made easy

We’ve got a toddler at home, which means we’re filling our digital camera a lot more often. The problem is that sometimes I download the pictures and sometimes my wife does. That means we’ve got them scattered across two or even three computers.

Sharing files between all of the computers in our house running different operating systems became quite a complicated mess earlier. We’d tried using shared folders on the desktop upstairs to share files, but that computer isn’t always turned on, so it wasn't always available to connect to with my wife’s PowerBook. With our Windows Home Server, now we just download all of our pictures to the server and then we have access to all of them no matter what computer we’re using. The shared folders are always available and connecting is a breeze.

Even better is that Windows Home Server makes it really easy to share those files with our non-computer devices. Specifically, we can use our Xbox 360 to stream music, pictures, and even videos from the server right into the living room.

Backup without the hassle

Despite all of the horror stories of hard drives that stopped working and the dire warnings about lost data, I’m terrible about backing up my computers. It seems like I never have the time, and more importantly I never know what to back up or even where to back it up. What I really like about Windows Home Server is that it makes those decisions easy. All of my computers are automatically backed up every night, whether I’m thinking about it or not.

Access anywhere, anytime

One great feature that I’m finding more and more useful is remote access. Remote access allows me to log on to my server over the Internet. That way I can upload and download files to and from the server. It’s really handy at work if there’s a document that I want to finish up at home. I can upload it to my server, work on it at home, and then when I’m back at work, download the updated file. Now, how cool does that sound?

Picture of the Windows Home Server remote access page
Log on to your home server anywhere over the Internet

Adding it all up

For me, the sharing and backup capabilities alone are enough, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are already a handful of add-ins available for Windows Home Server that expand on the already rich experience. For example, I’m using an add-in that monitors a folder on the server where I copy pictures that I want to share. When I put a new picture in that folder the add-in automatically publishes it to my Flickr account. Grandparents love this for seeing the latest adventures of their granddaughter!

To find out more about Windows Home Server, check out the Windows Home Server website.

About the author

Picture of columnist Mark Carpenter

Mark Carpenter is a writer on the Windows team at Microsoft. He spent his first six years at Microsoft working on documentation for the Macintosh product group. He's enjoyed the past two years seeing how the other half lives.

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