While it was called “Windows Home Server,” it also worked well in small offices that did not require the more sophisticated server functions.
I was very impressed with Windows Home Server and wrote about it at http://goo.gl/37UCg, http://goo.gl/F5Rf0 and at http://goo.gl/1j28G. I know from feedback to those articles that a number of newsletter readers use WHS and apparently agree that it has been a great product.
Unfortunately, Windows Home Server never sold very well. I am guessing that many computer users never understood the advantages of having your own server in the house. Yet, most everyone who tried it loved it. A couple of months ago, Microsoft announced that it was dropping Windows Home Server from its list of products. (See http://goo.gl/0jGNe for my article about the cancellation.)
Windows Home Server is no longer being supported, and it will not be available for sale after December 31, 2013. If you already have the product installed and operating, it will continue to run, probably forever. However, there will be no more updates, no more bug fixes, and (worst of all) no more security patches against new viruses and other attacks. Current users may want to consider this potential risk while those pondering a new home server need to look to a newer option, such as the one described in this article.
Microsoft has also announced it is dropping Windows Small Business Server, a move that mystifies me. Small Business Server has been a very popular product for Microsoft.
Writing in the Windows Secret newsletter, Woody Leonhard has described an inexpensive method of creating the equivalent of Windows Home Server by using Windows 8 Pro. In fact, some of the functionality that was in Windows Home Server has been added to the soon-to-be-released Windows 8 Pro, and the result can be a very good in-home server. It also should work well in small offices as well as in private residences. Leonhard gives step-by-step instructions that can be followed by anyone who is comfortable with Windows and possesses modest technical skills.
Both the original Windows Home Server and the new Windows 8 Pro server described by Leonhard can run “headless;” that is, a keyboard, monitor, and mouse are needed only to install the software and make it operational. Once the new server is up and running, you can disconnect and remove the keyboard, monitor, and mouse and never use them again. You could place the server in a closet, the basement, or a garage or any other place. (Just make sure computer has plenty of ventilation and controlled temperature and humidity.) If you ever do need to look at the server's console again in the future, you can do so from any computer on the network. To do so, from that computer you can establish a connection to the server. Everything that would normally be displayed on the server's screen will instead be displayed on your local screen. You can use the local keyboard and mouse to control the server in the normal manner. You could even do this from a hotel room thousands of miles away, if necessary. You can do most everything remotely except for turning the power switch off and on.
Using either of these Windows servers, you can also set up a bunch of hard drives as one big drive. For example, you could have three, four, or five separate, physical discs installed in the server and access them all as a single E: drive. Need a ten-terabyte drive or even something larger? Woody Leonhard's Windows 8 Pro "home server" can do that. If you run out of space on that virtual E: drive, just install another hard drive (internal or external), and Windows 8 absorbs the additional space in the E: drive. You can also set up a free SkyDrive connection and access any file on your server from the Internet (with proper authorization, of course).
Here is the best part: all you need is an old Windows computer with at least two gigabytes of RAM memory that you already have lying around, unused, an earlier version of Windows pre-installed, and the Windows 8 Pro upgrade that costs U.S. $40. Note that Woody Leonhard's instructions will only work on the Pro version of Windows 8, not on the Home version. Depending upon what disk drives are already installed in that old PC, you might also want to add more drives to gain more storage space.
If you would like to share printers or an Internet connection, or have space for in-home backups or any of the other uses of a server, you might want to check out Woody Leonhard's step-by-step instructions for installing and running Windows 8 Pro as a server at http://goo.gl/EJrjc.
NOTE: Before anyone asks me, I will mention that I do not run a Windows 8 server, so please don't ask me for detailed assistance. I can only refer you to Woody Leonhard's article. I already have an in-home server that runs the Macintosh OS X operating system and am very happy with it. The Mac provides similar functionality to that of the Windows server described here, so I don't see any need for me to switch. However, if I didn't already have an in-home server and if I did have an old Windows computer lying around, I would be strongly tempted to set up a new server, following Woody Leonhard's instructions.
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