With Vail, Microsoft Makes Windows Home Server More Flexible

Vail comes with a new software development kit (SDK) that "gives developers and partners even more ways to customize the OS and add new functionality and services to Windows Home Servers," Microsoft said in a Monday blog post.

Developers have been getting creative with Windows Home Server since March 2009 when Microsoft made it available to MSDN subscribers. Some VARs have found Windows Home Server useful as backup appliance that they manage and maintain as a service for their customers. Others have found it effective for remote management of customers' workgroup networks.

With Vail, Microsoft is moving Windows Home Server to 64-bit architecture and is recommending a minimum hardware configuration of 1.4-GHz x64 processor, 1 GB RAM, and at least one 160-GB hard drive. Microsoft doesn't advocate running Vail on 32-bit PCs, or even 64-bit PCs with previous versions of Windows Home Server, due to potential compatibility problems with certain OEM drivers.

In keeping with its nearly-uniform stance on all product releases, Microsoft isn't offering a time frame for releasing Vail. "We're not ready to discuss delivery dates yet," Microsoft said in the blog post.

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Windows Home Server is one of Microsoft's more enigmatic products: Customers and partners like the concept and agree that it fills an important need. But while Microsoft has doggedly tried to market this perception into reality, more than three years after Bill Gates unveiled the product at CES 2007, Windows Home Server remains a niche product.

Nor-Tech, a system builder in Burnsville, Minn., hasn't seen much demand for Windows Home Server within its customer base.

"Everyone I know who has used Windows Home Server loves it. People are using it like a Slingbox in some cases," said Todd Swank, vice president of marketing at Nor-Tech. "But it seems like a product that you have to be technically savvy to set up on your own. The average user is still intimidated by it."

Microsoft, to its credit has tackled this last part by simplifying the set-up process in the Vail beta as well as the user experience. Will this be enough to finally drive Windows Home Server into the consumer mainstream? Perhaps, but it looks like Microsoft may have to keep the marketing engine running in the meantime.