It has been a week of important firsts for Windows Home Server, with Microsoft launching an apparent full court press to get developers thinking creatively about the possibilities of the software.
In addition to making Windows Home Server available to MSDN subscribers, Microsoft earlier this week also released Power Pack 2, which consists mainly of minor performance tweaks, but also connects Home Server to Windows Media Center PCs for the first time.
Microsoft's rationale for putting Windows Home Server on MSDN is to get developers to build on the more than 100 add-ons that already exist for the software, which connects multiple PCs and stores, manages, backs up and protects digital audio, video and photos.
Putting Home Server on MSDN will spur solution providers to continue exploring new ways to use the software, says Dave Sobel, CEO of Evolve Technologies, a Fairfax, Va.-based Microsoft Gold partner.
For example, Sobel relates the tale of a colleague who had the idea to implement Home Server as a virtual machine to do desktop backups. "Before, you couldn't really test build something like that with anything but the evaluation copies," Sobel said.
"This gets Windows Home Server up in the hands of Certified and Gold Certified Partners, so if they have not had a chance to look at it, they can," said Susan Bradley, a Small Business Specialist partner in Fresno, Calif.
Mark Crall, president of Charlotte Tech Care Team, a Charlotte, N.C.-based solution provider, sees Home Server on MSDN as a "bold move" on Microsoft's part. "Many partners have wanted to try Home Server, but it wasn't available unless you went out and bought one from an OEM," said Crall.
As Microsoft has been doggedly trying to carve out an entirely new consumer market segment for Home Server, small businesses have begun taking advantage of the software's flexibility. For example, Microsoft VARs have begun using Home Server as a backup appliance, and are reaping services revenue for managing and maintaining it for customers, according to Sobel.
In January, Level Platforms unveiled its Managed Workplace offering, which installs on Windows Home Server and lets VARs handle remote management of workgroup networks for their customers. All of this is making Home Server an increasingly viable option for small business that would like to avoid the expense of Small Business Server, according to solution providers.
"Home Server does make a great workgroup environment backup solution, because there's no client backup in Small Business Server," said Crall.
Home Server has had its ups and downs since Microsoft launched it in September 2007, but it's about to get more exposure than it has ever had previously, and Microsoft would love to see this become a fertile development ground for both consumers and business.