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Doug's Mailbag: Windows Home Server Gets Good Marks, More

Microsoft recently reported that IE 8 might get bogged down by third party add-ons, but a couple of you aren't holding that against the browser:

IE 8 is just fine. The slow-downs are clearly the result of the add-ons, with Google (surprise, surprise) being one of the biggest offenders.

For me, as a developer, IE 8 has been quite fast. I have had almost zero issues. The only issue came right after installing the AVG package and a few updates: It just stoped working. But yesterday, I got a patch for IE 8 on 64-bit platforms, and apparently it's working again. So thats it.

With Firefox, I have had many different issues, and with Chrome, I have had very few -- but somehow managed to completely freeze the whole new multi-process architecture recently. The thing killed every single instance of the browser that was open, and I have no idea what did it.

Doug asked readers last week for their thoughts on Windows Home Server. Most (but not all) of you have good things to say about it:

Man, WHS is the best product Microsoft has come out with in years. Backing up everyone's PCs without my help? Priceless. The thing just runs. If you have an Xbox 360, then you can exploit it with that, also. One place for pictures, movies, docs -- what is not to love? Yes, buy it.

I built a WHS RC server and upgraded to the OEM release version. This is a great backup package, although there are still no baked-in features supporting a safe-data copy for off-site storage. I don't use the file sharing repository features. My server may be a wee bit weak to do video serving, according to my experience, but it is just fine for backups.

I have been using Windows Home Server since it originally came out. The system has been a life saver since I brought it online. Central storage is nice, if you can get your family to use it instead of saving everything locally or, worse yet, to the desktop. What really makes it a winner is the backup. The system 'wakes on lan' and backs up everyone's computer completely. It cross-references files from one computer to another and, if they are the same, only backs them up once and remembers which computers they are on so considerable hard drive space is saved. Another thing it does well is system maintenance. You can schedule it to 'wake on lan' and run maintenance tasks, all centrally controlled and monitored. The server then notifies users of the network status for all events, letting people know if there is a problem with anything it monitors.

The problem I see with Windows Home Server is it is intimidating to people who don't understand networking, which is really its target market. But if you are a power user who can't afford a full server, it is the ideal solution, especially when using Windows Live OneCare. It does not play so well with Norton 360, as I found out when changing from OneCare. I recommend it to anyone, including a small business, to run backup and maintenance with. Should you buy one? Well, if you have multiple users on your home network who neither backup or do maintenance on a regular basis, I think this is a must.


A couple of months ago, I lost thousands of e-mails on my wife's MSN account during an Outlook Connector upgrade. It was the first chance I really had to use the server. I picked a computer and date, and in a couple of minutes (maybe 5), it loaded all the files (system included) onto a Z drive. Went and found my .OST files. So from that standpoint, it has been very unobtrusive and useful.

The real advantage to me is when we had Hurricane Ike (I live in Houston). I just went and unplugged the server and took it with me. Figured that I had everything I needed in a very easy process.

I have been using WHS to back up two small businesses and it works great. It auto-back-ups the complete client computers! I have tested its restore function twice by replacing a computer's hard drive with a new one. You just insert the restore CD and it restores the computer across the network without you having to even format the drive. I had each computer fully restored in about one hour. It's also smart enough to know that the same file is on multiple computers and only stores one copy of it.

The only downside at this time is you can't back up the whole remote server -- public files can be backed up to a separate drive but the WHS OS and its backups can't be. It was supposed to be in service pack 1 but MS couldn't get the bugs out. You probably could get around this by using a computer with RAID but I have not tried it.

I've had a WHS (one of the HP MediaSmart family) since shortly after it first shipped. Between my wife and I, we have several PCs which are now all handily backed up over the network each night. We also both do digital photography and have a shared place to store the photos on the home server. We play slideshows with our DirecTV HD-DVRs around the house pulling the photos off the home server. And I always rip CDs to the home server so I can then import them into my Zune while my wife imports them into iTunes. And we can both play them on our PCs, as well. Honestly, I just bought it to automate the backup problem, but it has proven more useful than that.

And on the backup front: My wife has a notebook whose hard drive is failing. I just need to replace that drive and then boot the system restore CD and it will bring her notebook right back to where it was at the last backup. That will be the easy part (the hard part being finding instructions for replacing the hard drive itself). One event like this makes the entire WHS investment worthwhile.

I have used WHS (for backups) since it was released. However, even after many attempts and frustrations, I have NEVER been able to get the remote feature working. Qwest, Microsoft, Cisco (maker of the modem in use) have all ended up pointing fingers at each other and the result has been that it has never worked. Good luck if you try it.

Windows Home Server is not that great. It is basically like a giant front-end that is on top of Windows Server 2003. I tried the trial and had it on my computer for less than a week. Microsoft tried making Windows Server 2003 easier and simpler for home users to use and they did a decent job, but I had a lot of issues trying to connect my devices to the server. Microsoft provided a tool for this but it did not work with, let's say, 64-bit devices. It also did not work through firewalls and routers that easily.

I would have rather just installed a cleaned-up copy of Windows Server 2003 and configured it from there. The concept was good but the application of it was terrible. Maybe Microsoft will release Windows Home Server for 2008 and make it better down the road. Or maybe not.

And finally, Dennis muses about the obstacles facing Windows 7 when it comes to enterprise adoption:

Reading the latest Mailbag posts about Windows 7 deployment and whether it's going to be a tidal wave or ripple, I couldn't help but think about my own company's deployment of Vista: there wasn't one. We got 22 new systems back in 2007, each with Vista Business installed. We used our downgrade rights under the license to install XP on these systems, and that's what we've been running since. Since we run a variety of software packages, some of which only occasionally get updated, compatibility is a major consideration. In contrast to work, though, I run Vista almost exclusively at home, where I don't have the compatibility issues that I experience at work. My only use of XP now is on my netbook, which I dearly, dearly love.

My testing of Windows 7 leads me to expect that it will face the same kinds of issues that Vista experienced. There are plenty of small- and medium-sized shops that \ don't have the financial means to upgrade their hardware and software simply to be up-to-date with the latest OS from Microsoft. As long as they're able to meet their business needs, I suspect that will keep them from migrating to Windows 7. And as I've said before, I don't really think Windows 7 is that big a departure from Vista, except that stuff has once again been moved around and changed just enough so that you have to re-learn habitual behaviors.

Wednesday, readers share their thoughts (both good and bad) about the Office ribbon. Meanwhile, share your own thoughts by commenting below or sending an e-mail to [email protected]

Posted by Doug Barney on 07/27/2009 at 1:16 PM


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