Windows Home Server 2011 Online Help

While I’m deciding whether I should bother upgrading from my current Windows Home Server system to Microsoft’s brand spanking new Windows Home Server 2011, I thought that I should take a look at the online help system for WHS 2011. After all, when people get into difficulties, a well-designed online help system with relevant and accurate information should help them on their way, right?

So, how does the online help for WHS 2011 measure up?

Weeelll…

  • Could do better, I think is the diplomatic answer,
  • Could do an awful lot better, if we’re being more realistic.

Let’s start with the entry page of the help system:

(Note: since writing this blog entry, Microsoft has dropped the original web pages, and moved all the help text into the TechNet Library. None of the typos/grammar/errors/text have been changed in the move, so my criticisms are still valid…)

WHS help 1

OK, let’s get started

Oh, here’s a link about connecting computers to the Server

Under the “Prepare to connect computers to the server” heading it says:

The section provides information about the Connector software, the operated [sic] systems that are supported by Windows Home Server 2011, etc.

The correct text would be operating systems.

Further down the page, it has a section on how to “Connect computers to the server using the Connector software”. The first four subheadings are all to do with the concept of “How do I… (do a particular task)” . Three of the headings start with the phrase “How do I…”, yet for some reason the second item does not. It states baldly: “Install the Connector software?” when in fact what is implied is “How do I install the Connector software?”.

There’s a minor omission on the last subheading  “Troubleshoot connecting computer to the server” – a missing indefinite article.

So, back on the first subheading and link on the section “Connect computers to the server using the Connector software”, we arrive at the “How do I connect computers to the server page”…

Here, there’s a minor typo in the third bullet point of the “Before you begin” section – a missing space between the words 2011 and when

More importantly, in the text box labelled “Important”, there is reference to dynamic disks on client computers, without any further reference as to what, precisely, dynamic disks might be.

Let’s just think about the target audience for WHS2011 for a moment. It is, I assume, the same as for the original version of WHS, that is, ordinary home consumers who have possibly a number of PCs, some or all of which will be holding digital media or documents, which need to be protected against loss.

Using IT jargon (dynamic disks) without any further reference does not help – and this is supposed to be the online Help… This isn’t the last time this mistake will be made in the online Help…

OK, let’s carry on… Under the “To connect your computer to the server” section, item 6, we read:

a. From the Launchpad link, you can access the shared folders shortcut, configure computer backups, address alerts, and open the Remote Web Access site. For more information about the Launchpad, see Overview of the Dashboard

Erm, I think that link should be “Overview of the Launchpad.”…

After item 6 follows an extensive Important text box. There’s a typo at the end of the first bullet point: “For more information about user accounts see, see Manage User Accounts”.

Back on the Connect Computers to the Server page, there’s a link promising help on Prerequisites for connecting a computer to the home server.

Skating quickly over the reference to the fact that computer must be on the same IP subnet as the server that is running Windows Home Server 2011 – er, what’s an IP subnet? I’m just a home consumer… we come to the statement that:

The boot partition—that is, the disk partition where the Windows operating system is installed—is formatted with the NTFS file system.

Er, hang on – I thought that I could connect Macintosh computers to Windows Home Server 2011? What’s all this about Windows? Oh, don’t worry, the online Help system hasn’t got around to you yet…

Just in case you thought that the online Help system was missing out crucial information, we come to a section where Microsoft has apparently thought it worthwhile to include irrelevant padding to further confuse the reader.

Here’s the Install the Connector software? section (which as already noted, to be syntactically conformant and grammatically correct, should be titled How do I install the Connector software?). It reads:

The Windows Home Server 2011 Connector software is installed when you connect your computer to the server using the Connect a Computer to the Server wizard. You can launch this wizard by typing http://<ServerName>/connect in the address bar of your web browser (where <ServerName> is the name of your server).

  • Connects your home computer to Windows Home Server 2011.
  • Automatically backs up your home computer nightly (if you configure the home server to backup your home computers).
  • Monitors the health of your home computer.
  • Enables you to configure and remotely administer Windows Home Server 2011 from your home computer.

For step-by-step instructions about connecting your computer to the Windows Home Server 2011 server, see How do I connect computers to the server?. For additional information about connecting your home computer to the home server, see Connect Computers to the Server.

Now, tell me – what do those four bullet points add in any way at all to the answer to the question “How do I install the Connector software?”? Answer: nothing whatsoever. They are pure fluff – and irrelevant fluff at that.

OK, let’s skip now to one of the key areas of WHS2011 – Backup and Restore. We saw on the Home page of the online Help under the Backup and Restore heading the text:

Back up your server, and use your server to back up your computers.

So, clicking on the Backup and Restore link takes us to a page where there is information about backing up and restoring client computers, but not a single word about server backup and restore. A dead end. Oh well, never mind, after a bit of hunting, we find a page devoted to learning more about setting up server backup.

After the throwaway line that “Server backup is not enabled during server setup” (why not? was this important? should I worry about it? – who knows…) we come to the first meat of the section under the heading Server backup schedule:

You should protect your server and its data automatically by scheduling daily backups. It is recommended that you maintain a daily backup plan because most organizations cannot afford to lose the data that has been created over several days.

Er, hello? I’m not an organization – I’m a home consumer. Who, exactly, are Microsoft talking to? I don’t think it’s me…

Oh well, let’s continue… Under the section on considerations for the backup target drive, we read:

Choose a drive that contains sufficient space to store your data. Your storage drives should contain at least 2.5 times the storage capacity of the data that you want to back up. The drives should also be large enough to accommodate the future growth of your server data. Because server backups are incremental, a backup drive of 300 GB in size or more can hold months of backup data.

This advice is all very well, but nowhere does the help text spell out that (a ) your backup storage drives can not be bigger than 2TB in size and (b ) you can’t actually backup more than 2TB of server data in any case. And that “Because server backups are incremental, a backup drive of 300 GB in size or more can hold months of backup data” is possibly misleading if you’re a professional photographer doing daily shoots, or a TV addict recording lots of shows.

Still, let’s skip to another help page: Move a server folder. Frankly, this whole page reads as though it has been written by someone to whom English is not their first language. Don’t Microsoft employ proofreaders any more?

That same person appears to have been responsible for the Where should I add the Server folder? and the Where should I move the server folder? pages with:

  • their interesting sentence constructions (e.g. “If possible, avoid adding or moving a shared folder to the system (c:) hard drive as it make take away the necessary drive space that is required for operating system and its updates”.) and
  • their lack of clarity (e.g. “Also, avoid adding server or moving server folders to an external hard drive because you may not be able to access files in a folder on an external drive because they can be easily disconnected”. – using “they” when referring to “an external drive”).

There’s another pile of help pages to wade through, but I’ve had enough for today. I’ll just leave you with another gem on the How do I remotely access my computer? page. Under the Home computer status: connection is disabled section, it says:

The home computer connection is either blocked by a firewall, or the remote desktop is disabled at the computer or by Group Policy. It may take up to 6 hours for this status to be updated in the server if there is a change.

Once again, I’m a home consumer – what in heaven’s name is “Group Policy”?

Frankly, the majority of these help pages are written by IT people for IT people, not for ordinary people. This does not augur well for success in the supposed target market for WHS 2011.

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
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14 Responses to Windows Home Server 2011 Online Help

  1. Ed Zirkle says:

    Hi Geoff… interesting article… HS is a stripped down SBS and someone did not edit out the SBS jargon… then again, most home users will not read any instructions, just want it to run… :~]
    I’ll need to download the lastest build and see what MS has done with Drive Extender technology… that seems to be the biggest downfall to the new release…
    I look forward to reading more of your posts…

  2. Geoff Coupe says:

    Ed, the previous WHS was designed from the start for the Home User. WHS 2011 was designed by a team that, through a reorganisation in Microsoft, found itself in a Business group. Hence the dropping of the ball and the loss of focus on the Home User.

    And in answer to your point about what has MS done with the Drive Extender technology… it is no more… it has shuffled off this mortal coil. It’s rung down the curtain and joined the Choir Invisible.

  3. Wes Kocher says:

    I was randomly clicking support links from Dashboard tonight after setting up WHS 2011. First two pages I hit had glaring (to me, at least) grammar/spelling errors. Did not inspire confidence.

  4. Robert Dammers says:

    Geoff,

    I know you wrote rather disparagingly about the 3rd party DE replacements under development, but Drive Bender looks as though it might be a little more substantial than I first thought. This quote from their web site is rather interesting:

    “The story

    Early in 2010 we prototyped a Drive Extender style application with the view of releasing a product that would work with all versions of Microsoft Windows. However soon thereafter, Microsoft announced Vail (a new version of Windows Home Server) and a small business server product, codename Aurora, both of which contain their Drive Extender technology. Give this, and the possibility that Drive Extend may well make its way to other Microsoft platforms, we shelved the project.

    In late 2010 Microsoft announced that they would be dropping Drive Extender from all their products (including WHS 2011), leaving the door open for Division-M to resurrect the Drive Bender project!”

    I’m rather interested in setting up Drive Bender on my desktop to create a (removable) pool to back up my WHS server, with the pool of disks ultimately being transferred to a fireproof cabinet once I get authorisation from Financial Control. If that proves reliable, I’ll then consider doing the upgrade to WHS 2011, and implementing Drive Bender to manage my storage pool.

    I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts.

    Website is: http://www.drivebender.com/drive-bender/

  5. Geoff Coupe says:

    Robert,

    You wrote: “I know you wrote rather disparagingly about the 3rd party DE replacements under development”… Erm, did I? I didn’t think I had said anything other than there were some 3rd party replacements under development – and that was in a comment. The focus of any disparagement, I thought, has been directed at the WHS management, who have not managed this project at all well, in my opinion.

    I certainly didn’t mean to come across as disparaging about such products, but I am certainly cautious about them. The thing is, I personally would be reluctant to pick one in the near future – I think I’d prefer to wait until they’ve all been out in the wild for a while and we are getting reports on how reliable they are.

    As far as I know, there’s three such products being readied for the market: Drive Bender, Stablebit Drivepool and DataCore. Of these three, my money (at this point) is on DataCore. Why? Because they’ve been in this market for a while, so their technology has a track record. On the downside, they make stuff for the Enterprise market, so their products have been priced accordingly. I hope they realise that a product for WHS needs to be priced at least at an order of magnitude less… It’s also interesting that Tranquil PC has picked DataCore to ship in their new line of WHS 2011 servers.

    If you do go ahead with Drive Bender, do let me know how it’s panning out…

  6. Robert Dammers says:

    You’re right, I owe you an apology – my recollection is just that you said you wouldn’t trust your data to a less-well-known 3rd party. Well, I must admit, I’m concerned too. And I observe that even a WHS devotee (and Microsoft employee and evangelist) like Scott Hanselman is trying alternatives (podcast on the subject here: http://www.hanselman.com/blog/HanselminutesPodcast265SynologyNetworkAttachedStorageAndWindowsHomeServerWithTravisIllig.aspx ).

    I’m in the queue for the next beta cycle of Drive Bender . . .

  7. Pingback: Getting Started With Windows Home Server 2011 | Geoff Coupe's Blog

  8. Pingback: Windows Home Server Support | Geoff Coupe's Blog

  9. Allan McKillen says:

    Dear Geoff, I am trying to set up windows home server 2011 on my H.P. proliant server model G7 N54L and so far I have not been able to find the correct drivers for my segate Sata 250Gb drive. Information on this subject seems very sparce and so far I have spent 2 weeks getting nowhere. I wondered if you could help a novice out?

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