New Home Server aims to bring big-business technology to the home — but it will be a tough sell
Yes, it has come to this. Now that consumers have multi-PC homes, wireless networks, and thousands of digital files floating around, they need a computer whose sole purpose is to keep an eye on the other computers.
At least, that’s Microsoft’s (MSFT) pitch for a new class of machines built to run its new Windows Home Server operating system. Home Server products became available for pre-order this week from retailers including Best Buy (BBY), Circuit City (CC) and Amazon (AMZN), but it remains to be seen whether mainstream computer shoppers will buy the idea.
The concept is geeky, but the need for a home server is real, as anyone who has lost files to a hard drive meltdown will attest. The promise of the home server is that it will deftly perform many useful tasks that most computer users find too troublesome to do on our own.
For example, it will automatically back up every file on all the Windows computers in your home (so long as they’re running Windows XP or higher). The home server will also allow you to use a web browser to access files that are on your home computers while you’re on the road, and even remotely share them with friends and family. All the while it also watches out for the other PCs in its network, making sure they have the latest security software updates.
Microsoft says Home Server will also share files with computers running Apple’s (AAPL) Mac OS, but some features, like automatic backup, won’t work. (Mac users might not be too interested anyway; the latest version of the Mac OS comes with automatic backup features that the company has promised will eventually work across all Macs on a network.)
The computer industry is tentatively embracing the home server concept. Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) will have one of the first systems, the HP MediaSmart Server, which uses a processor from Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and up to a terabyte (1,000 gigabytes) of storage. Microsoft said a 500-gigabyte version will have a suggested retail price of $599, the terabyte version will be $749, and they will ship at the end of the month. There will be other systems too, including one from hard drive maker Seagate (STX) and systems with Intel (INTC) processors.
Practical though it may be, the concept of a “server” is still foreign to many everyday PC users — and that fact will make it difficult for Microsoft and its partners to market the thing. In the business world, servers are used to centrally manage important data and programs, but most office workers never need to come in contact with them. In fact, servers typically get mentioned only when there’s a problem with them — as in, “The e-mail server is down,” or, “Some important files just disappeared off of the server.”