Microsoft Beta Tests 'Vail' Home Server

More than two years after Windows Home Server launched, Microsoft is readying the first major update and switching to 64-bit only, but is the product too much or too little?

Microsoft quietly announced the beta test of the next version of Windows Home Server (WHS) this week -- but questions still remain about its long-term survival.

Codenamed "Vail," the next version of Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) WHS adds media streaming via remote access, the ability to backup and restore multiple PCs, and a simplified user interface (UI), according to a recent blog post by Dave Berkowitz, Microsoft's senior communications manager.

Additionally, according to a short video demo included with the post, Vail can join Windows 7 home groups, and the UI for remote access can be customized by PC OEMs that sell the new home server, but it won't run on older hardware since it's now a 64-bit system.

"In Vail, we’re moving to a new underlying server platform that will only run as a 64-bit OS. We do not recommend running Vail on a 32-bit PC or existing Windows Home Server systems (even 64-bit Home Server systems) because there may be compatibility issues with some OEM drivers," Berkowitz said in his post.

Microsoft, in fact, recommends that beta testers set Vail up on a secondary PC and also warns them that they will need to completely wipe that PC's hard disk in order to use it. Installing Vail on an existing PC running WHS version 1 may result in some add-in programs failing to run, the post continued.

Vail requires a 1.4 GHz x64 processor, at least a gigabyte of RAM, and a 160 GB hard disk. WHS is typically sold by PC OEMs preinstalled on their hardware.

Microsoft shipped the first release of WHS in November 2007. It was a pet project of Microsoft chairman Bill Gates before he retired from active work at the company -- part of his vision of more computing migrating into the home.

To date, however, WHS has not found its sweet spot, if there is one, according to one retail analyst.

"It's a nice niche product but hasn't sold in big numbers that I can see," Stephen Baker, vice president for industry analysis at market researcher NPD, told Even though WHS has no direct competitors, Baker said it hasn't caught on with consumers, partly because it's overkill.

"There's nothing as comprehensive as WHS [but] the consumer ends up saying, 'That's more than I need,'" Baker added.

The beta of Vail, as well as a software developers kit (SDK) for partners and developers, can be downloaded from Microsoft's Connect site.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.

Tags: Microsoft, SMB, SMB server, Home Server, Vail

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