Well, I Told You So…

So Microsoft has effectively killed off their Windows Home Server product.

Being Microsoft, of course, they don’t say this quite as baldly as I just did. Instead, they’ve announced some details of their forthcoming Windows Server 2012 lineup of software, and buried on page 4 of the 6 page FAQ we find this:

Q: Will there be a next version of Windows Home Server?

A: No. Windows Home Server has seen its greatest success in small office/home office (SOHO) environments and among the technology enthusiast community. For this reason, Microsoft is combining the features that were previously only found in Windows Home Server, such as support for DLNA-compliant devices and media streaming, into Windows Server 2012 Essentials and focusing our efforts into making Windows Server 2012 Essentials the ideal first server operating system for both small business and home use—offering an intuitive administration experience, elastic and resilient storage features with Storage Spaces, and robust data protection for the server and client computers.

OK, so they are saying that Windows Server 2012 Essentials is to be “the ideal first server operating system for both small business and home use”. And how much will it cost? Well, it’s $425. And how much does Windows Home Server 2011 cost? Er, $40. There’s no way I can possibly justify shelling out $425 for Microsoft’s proposed successor to WHS 2011.

Now, to be fair, that $425 price is a retail price, while the $40 is an OEM price. There isn’t an OEM price for Windows Server 2012 Essentials, instead, there’s another product in the range that will be available as OEM software, and that’s Windows Server 2012 Foundation. We don’t yet know what the OEM price will be for this software, and while it will be less than $425, I very much doubt that it will be $40 either, probably more in the $100 – $150 range.

But there’s another issue to worry about, will there be things missing from the Foundation version that are present in Essentials? Microsoft says this

If you’re a small business with limited in-house skills, Windows Server 2012 Essentials is an appropriate option. It’s simple, affordable, and easy to manage, and has been tailored to address common small business IT scenarios. Windows Server 2012 Essentials is the ideal solution if you plan to expand your business capabilities through the cloud as it is designed to facilitate your connection to online services. On the other hand, if you have some level of in-house IT skills and want the ability to tailor server roles to their unique environments, then Windows Server Foundation is potentially better suited to your business.

In other words, if you are a home user, then you had better have some degree of IT skills at your fingertips if you want to use Windows Server Foundation, assuming that it does contain all the necessary functionality. It certainly won’t have the easy-to-use Wizards that will be present in the Essentials edition…

The upshot of all this is that Microsoft has essentially dropped the whole concept of a Home Server product, priced for the consumer market. I can’t say that I’m the least little bit surprised, the writing has been on the wall since the early days of the development of WHS 2011.

The first version of Windows Home Server began with a vision and a focus on the home consumer. There was even a set of guiding principles for the design of the storage system for WHS v1 that were predicated on the needs of the home consumer. After the release of that first version of WHS, the team leader (Charlie Kindel) moved on, the WHS team got reorganised, and ended up in the Server group at Microsoft – small fish in a very big pond. In the process of developing WHS 2011, they effectively tore up Kindel’s guiding principles, and the result has been a product that while it bears the word “Home” in its title, is far less focused on the home consumer than the first version. Now that focus has been reduced even further to a blur.

While some people will question the value proposition of a home server in these days of cloud services and online streaming, I firmly believe that it has a place. I have more data than I can affordably hold in the cloud, and living as I do in the countryside, I am at the end of a piece of wet string, so streaming of high-quality content is not an option.

The original concept of WHS, with its easy to manage storage, and single-instance backup of up to 10 client PCs was something that had clear value to me. Microsoft weakened that with WHS 2011, and now they are in effect getting out of the home server market altogether.

The one possible ray of hope is that it may be possible to replicate the functionality of WHS using Windows 8. That is dependent on someone developing an App for Windows 8 that replicates the client PC backup functionality that is present in WHS, while addressing its limitation (it can’t backup PCs that use EFI/GPT technology). There’s a gap in the market opening up – let’s hope someone will fill it…

[Update 4th March 2013: Microsoft has at last issued a Hotfix to add backup support for UEFI-based computers to back up to servers that are running Windows Home Server 2011]

Update 15 July 2012

Being somewhat curious, I downloaded the beta of Windows Server 2012 Essentials and installed it into a virtual machine. I followed the excellent guides provided by Jim McCarthy on how to do this. Here’s his guide on installing Hyper-V (the virtual machine environment) in Windows 8 and here’s his guide on installing the beta of Windows Server 2012 Essentials.

I found that I needed to make a change to my PC to enable the virtualisation mode of the CPU, but once that was done (and the PC rebooted multiple times), the Hyper-V environment was up and running. The installation of the beta of WSE 2012 was very straightforward, and before too long, I saw the server appear on my home network.

I have to say that I think Microsoft is being disingenous when they say that WSE 2012 is suitable for “home use”. From what I saw of the environment, it is clearly aimed at a small business, not the home. For one thing, it provides a full domain controller environment, which is very much overkill for the home.

I confess that I didn’t leave WSE 2012 in place for very long before I deleted it and removed the Hyper-V environment.

For one thing, although it may have been a coincidence, following the installation of WSE 2012 into Hyper-V running on my main Desktop PC, the WHS backup service of that PC stopped running. Looking in the Event Viewer showed .NET runtime errors occurring with the Windows Server Client Computer Backup Provider Service, which manages the backup and restore service for client computers. Since this service was stopped (and couldn’t be restarted without errors), I could not back up or restore data for my Desktop PC.

The other thing that sealed the fate of WSE 2012 for me was the news that a version of MyMovies will not be developed for WSE 2012. Brian Binnerup, the developer of MyMovies, believes (quite rightly, in my view) that the market will be too small to justify development and support of a WSE 2012 version. Since I have the MyMovies server installed on my WHS 2011 system, that rather closes off a possible upgrade path from WHS 2011 to WSE 2012 (quite apart from the cost of WSE 2012, of course). It looks as though a future version of the MyMovies server will only be developed for Windows 8. Update 24 August 2012: I see that Brian Binnerup now seems to have changed his mind about supporting Windows Server Essentials 2012. That’s good to know, but it’s still too expensive for me.

As a result, I have turned my back on Windows Server Essentials 2012. It has been removed from my PC. I’ve reinstalled the WHS 2011 Connector, and now my Desktop PC is once more being backed up on a daily basis to my WHS 2011 server.

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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7 Responses to Well, I Told You So…

  1. Matt Healy says:

    Have you looked at Retrospect backup software? I haven’t used it in years, and never used the Windows version, but back in the 1990s as the IT guy for a lab group that used Apple Macs I mafe heavy use of Retrospect to back them all up. The company is still around, and if their Windows product now is as good as their MacOS stuff was back then, it’s pretty darned good!

    The version I used basically turned client-server around: a small lightweight server runs on each machine that is to be backed up, to which the master machine used for scheduling backups talks. A very nice feature is it has an excellent way to detect duplicate files that minimizes network traffic: the program running on each machine sends back filename, datestamp, and hash value for each file. The machine with the tape drive compares each file to a catalog of what it already has on tape, so the actual data need only be transmitted over the network if the file isn’t a duplicate.

    I used Retrospect from 1992 through 1998 to back up about a dozen Macs at Yale School of Medicine, during which time I needed either to restore a crashed machine or rescue old data numerous times. I found Retrospect to be a very robust and flexible tool.

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      Matt, thanks for the info. It sounds as though Retrospect uses a similar algorithm to the WHS client PC backup function. I suspect that I’ll be in the market for an alternative to the WHS backup by the time I buy/build my next PC – since that will almost certainly be using EFI/GPT. However, that is probably a year or so away, and I’ll see what’s on the market (and in the Windows Store) then.

  2. Aussie_Z says:

    Geoff … thanks for the update … As you say the writing was on the wall … And I had just (finally) got over my “computer monitoring error bug” too … I don’t feel that the ”Gauntlet has been thrown down” … I feel that it has been thrown at me. Thanks Microsoft – as usual we spend all our time and money debugging your product … and then you cancel it!!! 😦

    Retrospect seems like an option … but there appears to be a $119 cost … Which might be OK if the system works as advertised. Of course WHS provided remote access too … which means that we will need an OS at additional cost, and other software to replicate full WHS functionality.

    I will also be looking for a WHS replacement in a year or so … so we’ll see if someone steps up to fill the gap. Let’s hope so.

  3. Poppapete says:

    No one seems to be addressing the problem of backing up GPT disks. I want to upgrade both my desktop (over 3 years old) and my laptop (over 5 years old) to UEFI ASUS based systems. Unless I have it wrong there is no server based solution that can accomplish this effectively. I am using WHS 2011 at present.

  4. Al Feersum says:

    Meh. There are backup solutions available: I use CrashPlan for my HomeServer OS partition (but I also use the internal server backup too, onto a dedicated VHD).

    I’ve been running my HomeServer in a Hyper-V environment on a 2008 R2 server for a long time – V1 was OK, although I started getting issues with the DriveExtender – one thing I’m glad they got rid of for 2011. But it’s been a pretty good platform all told, apart from trying to do stupid things like running multiple small VHDs under software RAID control.

    It also means I can use one machine to host a SQL Server 2008 R2 instance, a vanilla XP SP1 machine so I can strip the DRM off BBC WMVs downloaded from iPlayer, and my HomeServer.

    As for 2012 Essentials… I’ll give it a look, but if it doesn’t provide similar services to WHS2011 then I think I’ll give it a miss.

  5. Pingback: The End is Nigh | Geoff Coupe's Blog

  6. Pingback: RIP, Windows Home Server… | Geoff Coupe's Blog

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