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Windows Home Server 'Vail' Preview Released

Microsoft announced today that it has released a "preview build" of Windows Home Server (WHS) codenamed "Vail" to test participants.

This latest build can be downloaded by test participants at the Microsoft Connect Web portal here. Those who aren't part of the test effort can join the effort at the Connect home page.

A beta of Vail was released in late April to participants in the testing program. This latest preview build release of the server, plus an updated software development kit, was billed as "RC0" (Release Candidate 0) in a blog post by Jonas Svensson, a Microsoft community program manager. However, that nomenclature was subsequently removed from the blog.

Microsoft's development cycle for Window Home Server Vail seems somewhat veiled at this point. The company hasn't said when it plans to release Vail to manufacturers. However, Svensson explained that the preview build "has plenty of enhancements and improvements over the original build." He listed just a few, such as help documentation for building add-ins and understanding APIs, plus templates to build add-ins using Visual Studio 2008.

In a Microsoft forum post, Michael Leworthy, a technical product manager for Windows Home Server, listed improvements to WHS Vail since the last release. The server now has a "full set of health definitions covering client/server backup, storage, networking" and other matters. Users can "configure the server to send alerts via E-mail." Device and user passwords can be reset. The server has a "new storage summary page" describing folders, hard drives and backup drives. The disk utility, CHKDSK.EXE, can now be run on all server backup hard drives.

Microsoft has also improved the user experience of Launchpad, which enables quick access to server functions from a Windows client. Users can customize what alerts they will see on the client through a dialog box. There are also Media Center and HomeGroup integration improvements for Windows 7 clients.

Finally, the new preview build includes support for Mac clients. It allows "the use of Windows Home Server as a target for [Apple] Time Machine backups, as well as a Mac Launchpad and the same remote Web access experience as provided for the PC," according to the We Got Served blog. However, Windows Home Server Dashboard access currently isn't supported on Mac clients, the blog added.

The release notes contain lots of caveats for this build. Ken Warren, a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional, singled out four issues in particular in a Microsoft forum post:

  1. "You'll have to flatten your server. This build of Drive Extender is incompatible with previous builds. We warned you this might happen.  P.S.: I expect it at least once more, at RTM.
  2. Memory requirements have doubled, from 1 GB minimum to 2 GB minimum, due to resource starvation issues found with Server Backup in low memory conditions.
  3. There is a known issue with Storage Check and Repair which can result in significant data loss. Don't use Storage Check and Repair unless you don't mind reloading your server.
  4. There is a known issue with removing a missing drive which can result in significant data loss. Don't remove a missing drive unless you're willing to reload your server."

WHS Vail is the second generation of a much troubled product that was originally aimed at home users. Microsoft has also positioned WHS Vail for small businesses with up to 10 PCs. It provides backup and file sharing capabilities. However, it lacks many basic server support features, such as out-of-the-box printer support and terminal server support for remote access to applications, as well as support for RAID (redundant array of independent disks) setups.

Microsoft also has two other server products for smaller organizations, announced last month, that are undergoing preview testing. Windows Small Business Server codenamed "Aurora" is designed for up to 25 users, whereas Windows Small Business Server codenamed "7" is targeted toward organizations with up to 75 users.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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