Reasoning why I just installed Windows Home Server


Following on from the last post I decided to chill this weekend by sorting out my media server. I've been holding off on installing Microsoft Windows Home Server because I've been thinking I could install something like FreeNas or build a Ubuntu box with the same elements of Windows Home Server.

Well so first up, FreeNas is cool but its for NAS type setups not a Home Sever! Home server at the moment doesn't do much more than FreeNas but this will change soon. I then looked around for someone who had put together a NAS type system and added a backup system like Bacula into a simple distro. As usual I was asking far too much and instead I found others looking for the same. It started with George Ou's review of Windows Home Server on ZD net,

Last year whenever people asked me what to use when building a home server, I’d tell them to use Linux or FreeBSD because there was absolutely nothing from Microsoft under a few hundred dollars.  There was no way anyone would spend a few hundred dollars on Windows Small Business Server so Linux or FreeBSD was their only choice.  With Windows Home Server on the horizon, Microsoft might just steal a piece of the home server appliance market from Linux.

The typical consumer isn’t ready to become a Windows or Linux server administrator but many consumers find themselves in the position of being the de facto home IT administrator.  Windows Home Server is Microsoft’s server entry in to the home network and it tries to solve two key problems in the modern multi-PC home – storage sprawl and PC backup.  It has the potential to radically change the mid- to high-end home NAS market because it offers some key features such as:

  • Fast cluster-level incremental backups equivalent to full backups
  • Bare-metal client recovery (restore a PC with a bare hard drive)
  • Single instance storage (duplicate files don’t waste space)
  • Previous versions (file journaling with Volume Shadow Copy Services)
  • Remote Desktop gateway (multiple PC support)
  • Media streaming with Windows Media Connect
  • Print server with auto-driver loading

So for myself effortless backup, media storage and print server are the most important right now. And today I pulled down my old dell box (a dual Xeon Pentium 3 box. I was shocked when it started to actually install because the requirements are a 1ghz chip.

But Back to Linux again, a guy (Xwindowjunkie) after reading George Ou's review spits blood and challenges the Linux world to create a distro to rival home sever.

A recent posting by George Ou about Windows Home Server brought out a lot of responses from the Linux community. I think that Microsoft deserves to get some competition.

Here's the challenge:

There are a lot of Linux experts on this site. I challenge them to come up with a list of applications that work the best for each of the given functions found in Windows Home Server. Show me a list of something that you guys think will beat or meet Windows Home Server, that will work for a lot of people and that you think can be easily reproduced. I will build it and give you an honest appraisal of my experiences while doing it. I will document it well enough that others less skilled will be able to do it. I'd like to be

able to release it as a DIY compilation distro if possible.

Now the kicker, on the EXACT same hardware I will install the WHS Beta or release RC1, assuming I can get it, and test it in comparison on the basis of a USER, not a technician or a systems engineer.

There are a few restrictions I place on this challenge:
1) Do not expect me to compile Gentoo or Debian. I want to get this all done within a few weeks, OK?
2) The install packages must be applications that can be downloaded from the distro's website or mirror. I will not start with somebody's forked code.
3) The applications need to be compatible with the Linux distro and the desktop. I am partial to Gnome but I'm willing to use KDE.
4) If you expect me to script something or run a script, show me an example or give me the script. (This runs counter to item 2 above but I realize Linux runs on scripts). It would be nice if the script has enough commentary to let me know what was going on in it. I reserve the right to dump something I'm suspicious of.
5) If the application mix doesn't work, be prepared to get bad Linux PR from the blog. I will not attack or flame anybody personally as a part of this challenge but the distributions and/or applications are fair game. If they're bad they need to be flamed.

I will take a complete list of Linux applications from an individual or a committee of no more than 3 people and a suggested Linux distro to put it on. I will build it on a 2.6 Ghz Celeron system with 512 MB Ram on a stock DELL with a CDRW or a DVD +/- RW drive. Since this system will NOT be playing the DVD or video, we'll live with the on-board SVGA chip and the optical drive is there for software install only. (Its a server remember?) I have my choice of hard drives.

Then I will report back blog style what it took me to do it. I'll keep track of the hours and what and where I had to find my manuals/documentation to make it work. The idea is to develop a “distro” that can duplicate the published capabilities of the WHS minus the bare metal recovery. I can use Ghost as well as anybody.

Wow now thats a challenge and a half. But he right there should already be a distro which does this but there certainly isn't. Even I can name a couple of single application servers which you could pull together to make up a lot of the features for home server. Isn't a home server almost the perfect territory for ubuntu, redhat and suse linux? Hey maybe Microsoft actually out innovated everyone and created a product which is actually ground breaking?

Going back to my install, currently its up and running took ages to install but it did do a internet update to the latest rc from my beta 2 disc. But now half a day later, its working perfectly.

I have 2 IDE hard drives and 1 SCSI hard drive in it currently, and as you'd expect it made them all into one large hard drive of roughly 280gig. I still have room for one more 3.5 hard drive on the IDE bus or a few on the SCSI bus. I also spent about 6 hours copying all the stuff from multiple machines to the home server. The shares are all working and even XBMC find the home server as a Universial Plug and Play device which I can streaming media from. I've not tried this with the Nokia N80 yet, but it should work the same way once its on the local network.

The only thing which I need to do now is get backups working, but there some kind of software I need to install on each machine which is backed up. This is isn't like Bacula but I'm sure Microsoft made it

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Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser. Can be found at, and