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Computing (May 1, 2007)

Microsoft Wants to Save Your Life
by John R. Quain
The company will soon introduce a simple home network storage system

As more of our daily lives transpire in the digital domain—financial records, kids’ birthday pictures, calendars and contact lists—the problem of protecting it all gets more acute. Consequently, there are a growing number of options for saving and sharing that essential data. And Microsoft is about to offer yet another solution: The Windows Home Server.

HP Windows Home Server

According to Microsoft, there are 34 million households in the U.S. with more than one PC, and many of those are networked together using a Wi-Fi network or router. But because of the hassle and complexity, few of us use that network to do more than simply share a high-speed Internet connection. The Windows Home Server is supposed to change all that by delivering a simple box with lots of storage that just plugs into a network router and allows everyone on the network to share files and do automatic backups…without hassle.

Initial demonstrations conducted again in New York last week look promising. The software is relatively easy to follow, with straightforward options to back up all photos, music, and videos (it will even recognized duplicate copies and only back up one version). Folders can be shared across the network (after all, how many copies of your daughter pulling Santa’s beard do you need?), and systems can be completely restored with a few mouse clicks.

For travelers, Microsoft will also offer a free online service that will allow you access your Home Server online from any location. Forgot an important report or spreadsheet while away on business? No problem. Just log on and download it to your laptop on the road. Want to show grandma all those photos you took at spring break? Just log on and show her the pictures from your Home Server.

Windows Home Servers, as the name suggests, will work only with Windows XP and Vista machines, and are strictly for sharing and backing up files—they cannot be used to share applications. (In other words, you cannot put a rarely used application like Photoshop on the server and share it among all the computers on your network.) The first model to appear in stores will be HP’s MediaSmart Server (pictured above), available in late August or early September. According to HP spokespeople, the system will hold up to 6 terabytes of hard disk storage space. The company isn’t sure how systems will be configured (possibly with a couple of drive bays filled and a couple of empty bays so you can plug in more drives later). However, HP says it’s aiming for prices well under $1,000.

Such price points may be too steep for many consumers, but if a lot of your daily life relies on a computer, it could be worth it. (If you’re looking for less expensive solutions now, see Preserving Your Digital Treasures.)

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