New Windows Home Server software from Microsoft is not for business but might just be the business. Here is Bill Gate's description of it during his CES address:

"This Windows Home Server is for homes where you've got either multiple PCs, or Xboxes, the case where you want to have your storage available at all times to the different devices. This is a product that will come out in the second half of this year."

Automated backup

Bill Gates explained the features and one was not having to worry about backup:

"What are the features? Automated backup, it goes and finds the PCs, brings the information up and makes sure that it's all stored here up on the server. We've got connectivity, connectivity to, of course, all the different PCs, but the Zune, Xbox, and remote connectivity. If you're somewhere else coming in and getting your files, having access to them in a very secure way, that's set up for you, no complexity in terms of how you have to get involved with that."

There should be a full backup of each connected PC's hard drive each night. It's intended to support Linux and Mac boxes too. Mac hard drive backup is thought to be a problem area at the moment.

Another feature was some kind of automatic inclusion of new storage into some kind of protected logical pool:

"Finally, if you want to grow the capacity, you don't have to think about volumes, or different devices, or names, or things like that, you literally just plug the new storage in, and it's got quite a bit of expandability, and automatically the software will see that storage, move the data around, so that any drive problems you run into it makes sure that you're not losing information. So you can get up to literally terabytes on this device."

This sounds like a network-attached file system (NAS) with some kind of RAID protection. Gates mentioned redundancy in a CNET interview. He also said that users wouldn't have to worry about drive letters when adding new drives. If an internal drive failed then the redundancy would nean files could still be accessed. This is a RAID 1 mirroring-like scheme I think.

The device would be assumed to on all the time so that files could be accessed no matter which PCs, notebooks, Xbox' or Zunes were switched on or not. It's not particularly green in that sense.

Naturally Microsoft partners are involved in delivering home server products that use Windows Home Server:

"HP will brand it as the HP Media Smart Server, and it's the Windows Home Server software with their enhancements that will run on top of that."

HP's home server box has two SATA hard drives; two more can be added internally, and four USB-connected external drives can be added as well. In theory 4 x 750GB could be its maximum internal capacity - but 1TB SATA drives are coming so a 4TB limit can be assumed. Don't expect the device before the middle of the year. The Microsoft software is scheduled to go to manufacturing in late June this year.

"We've got HP as the lead partner, but also AMD, Intel, and ... lots of others are building hardware reference designs. Since it's a software-driven device each of the partners will be able to do some unique things running on the server tier, so even more richness as you look at the variety that will be out there."

People will be able to address their WHS box remotely, by using a personalized Windows Live Internet address.

Windows Vista, running on a WHS-connected PC will be able to search it when looking for documents, music files, etc. It will also apparently be able to include the connected PCs in its search space.

More information

What we know is that WHS will sit between or behind all the Windows devices in a home - PCs, notebooks, Xbox or Zune, and be connected to them. The connection, presumably could be wired or wireless.

There will be a logical pool of storage on the WHS box and individual device files will be backed up to the WHS box. Presumably that will use Microsoft's DPM disk-to-disk backup software.

The cost is anticipated to be in the $400-500 area (£300-400). If you want to find out more you won't find it at Microsoft's digital amnesia facility - it's brain-dead at the moment. However this Microsoft blog site has excellent information about it.

For example:

"Home Server ... keeps your computers protected from disaster, by backing up every byte of data on every computer in the home. It can take an unlimited amount of storage space, backing up to internal and external hard drives the entire contents of every PC, not once, but twice, letting you restore files or entire PCs immediately. It even stores versions of files, so you can roll back that important spreadsheet to how it looked two weeks ago, or undo four days of awful video editing by your talentless sibling."

"Backups are automated and daily. In typical usage, it is plug and play, you never have to work with any settings or configuration. Only new or changed data is backed up, but everything will be backed up. In fact, if several copies of the same data is saved on different computers, Home Server will only back it up once on the server, and keep track of the various versions, not just by date, but by originating computer."

"At any point, if something goes wrong, you can boot up a computer with a Home Computer Restore CD and it will connect to the Home Server with a simple wizard that will restore it from the backup. At any time, you can also access the Windows Home Server Console from any home computer and restore individual files and folders."

"Everything in the (WHS) shared folders is backed up, with snapshots taken twice a day. Every shared folder has two copies, on seperate hard drives. Previous Versions of files in shared folders will be available, so in Windows XP or Vista Ultimate/Enterprise/Business you can go to the Previous Versions tab in the properties of any file or folder and restore an older version of the file or folder. Previous Versions is not available in any Home version of Windows Vista."

"File backup works on the block cluster level, not on the file level. Windows Volume Snapshot Services tracks the hash values of every block on the disk and compares the hash values with those of blocks already backed up. If the hash value changes, it sends those blocks to the Home Server. Thusly, Home Server knows when only portions of a file has changed, and tracks those changes. By default, Home Server will backup every hard drive on every computer, internal or external. You can manage your backups from Home Server Console, choosing which to keep and which to delete."

"All storage on the Home Server is treated as a single drive, no matter how many drives you have, how they are split up, and whether they are internal or external, and there is no need for the user to configure what data goes on what drive. Hard drives do not have to be of equal size or type or speed, and Home Server will add them to available storage and determine which will be used for necessary duplication. Before you remove a hard drive, Home Server determines and explians to you how removal of that drive will affect the system, and will move critical data from that drive to other drives in the server."

Businesses would like some of these features. In fact lots of small office/home office companies will be tempted.

WHS has been rumoured for some time. It's known that Quattro was the internal Microsoft code-name for the product. Run a Google search to find out more about what features Quattro was meant to have.

One missing link is how a TV might be connected to it. There's always Xbox for this but many homes won't have an Xbox, and why should you use a gaming device to sit between a PC and a TV anyway? Wi-fi TV anyone?