Slowly but surely a shift is underway. The unit storage shipments to consumers and the home are increasing. Initially it has been on a per-device basis: external drives for PCs, USB thumb drives, smart cards for phone, camera and MP3 players, plus internal drives for notebooks, PDAs, games consoles and desktops. Now a new category of home storage has begun with Microsoft's Home Server and Apple TV.

The basic idea is to have a central file server which devices use to store files, backup their local files, and share files around the home. We might envisage a WiFi network with the home file server linked to several desktops and PCS, a game console or two, a TV or two and possibly the home audio system.

Business opportunities

There are home business continuity and disaster recovery opportunities here.

This home file server (domestic NAS) will represent the family's digital vault for all files digital. It will have a very low management overhead and use RAID technology to guard against disk failure. But having an entire family's files on such a device will provide an opportunity for enhanced data protection. The best ease-of-use will come from an online service, such as Mozy.

ISPs providing the home broadband Internet connection will find on-line vaulting of their customers' files a natural aspect of their business.

Seagate and others who provide simple-to-use external drives for backup will find the idea of providing external drive array automated backup for the home server a natural extension of their business too.

Hosted e-mail to suffer?

Consumer e-mail services such as Hotmail, Gmail and Yahoo mail, may suffer. Currently I have control over all my files. A Hotmail user doesn't. Cancel your Hotmail contract and see how easy and practical it is to transfer all your hosted and filed e-mails elsewhere. It is surely safer to have them stored on your home server. Certainly space limitations won't prevent you doing that.

As e-mail use grows and grows the tendency will surely increase to store electronic documents and throw away paper ones. The home server is set to takeover filing functions from domestic filing cabinets.

Windows, Mac OSX or Linux

We might think software licensing costs will drive people to use Linux home servers. But a Linux home server with similar ease-of-use to the Microsoft and Apple products is some time away. Indeed Windows has a head start as Windows home PCs are out there in vastly greater numbers than Macs.

Indeed again the home is going to become a market where Microsoft and Apple collide and compete all over again. If you have an iPod, and get to buy an iPhone, then Apple TV will look a good idea. But if you are iPod-less, have an Xbox 360 and Windows PCs in your home then Microsoft's Home Server will have a stronger appeal. Zune-using families will be even more likely to look to Redmond to serve their home storage problems.

What about PlayStation users? Could either Apple or Microsoft forge an alliance with Sony? Ditto Nintendo - because storing games and games-related stuff could well be a home server function.

It seems to me that there is a new battle being entered by Apple and Microsoft, called WOTH - Who Owns The Home?