Replace Windows Home Server With These Great Free Tools

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windows home serverMicrosoft has been implementing big changes lately, and none of them are sitting too well with me. If you’re as jaded as I am about the $50 Windows Home Server being killed off – replaced by the $450 Windows Server Essentials – then fear not; you can get pretty much all the same functionality from these awesome free tools, and not give Microsoft a penny in the process.

First off, let’s establish what Windows Home Server was awesome at:

  1. Backups; automated system backups. I’m not sure we can acheive quite the same level of OS integration, but we can certainly get close.
  2. Media streaming and file server; a rock solid file server that’s going to give you OS-independant DLNA media streaming to devices and computers.

I’m going to assume these are the main functions you’re after, though I’m sure there were more features.

So, what can you use instead?



CrashPlan is a paid cloud backup service, but they also have a free cross-platform app to manage backups, which you can use to setup a remote, personal backup system. Basically, you install the app and allocate a portion of your local drive; then on a separate machine, you install the app again, and tell it to backup to the first machine. You can use this for your own machines; or you can set up a buddy system with some friends, whereby you each backup to each other. Which is really pretty awesome when you think about it: read Matt’s full tutorial here.

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Windows 7 native system imaging

If you’re running anything other than the Home edition, Windows 7 actually already has a system imaging function built in; you can store these images on a network drive as long as it’s formatted with NTFS, then use this image to fully restore a broken machine later. It’s not quite as slick as the backup and restore that you get with WHS, but it’s the closest you’re going to get (for free).

Download Tina’s free guide on Backup and Restore: Stuff Happens, for a complete walkthrough.

Media Streaming


Plex is still my favourite media streaming server and app; I’ve written about it before, but let’s go over the basic features that makes Plex one big bundle of awesome:

  • The server app runs on Windows, Linux and Mac. There are even versions for ARM-based ReadyNAS network servers.
  • Clients for Mac and Windows are free; iOS and Android clients costs $5.
  • Plex acts as a DLNA server for devices like smart TVs, Roku player, Xbox 360 and PS3.
  • Plex server scans a folder for new files; when it finds them, it promptly looks up artwork and other meta-data from a variety of sources. This has about 95% accuracy, so most of the time it’s hands-off in terms of having to micro-manage your movies and media.
  • Plex is beautiful. It looks fantastic on a 50″ TV and works great with the Apple remote.
  • Plex also has an interesting social / online component to it. You can use this to both queue videos you find around the web to watch later; and open up specific parts of your media collection for your friends to be able to view.

We have a free Plex PDF guide to get your started.

windows home server software

XBox Media Center (XBMC)

Originally for the Xbox but now cross-platform, XBMC is a networked media client; rather than the Plex approach of having a central server that manages your media, XBMC runs locally on your media center and reads files from a remote source (or a local source, or a DVD etc). This has the advantage of being able to use it with any old networked filestore. Why choose XBMC over Plex? Essentially, it’s a lot more hackable. to put it simply though: Apple fans -> choose Plex; Linux users -> choose XBMC. You should also know that Plex was originally a fork of XBMC, so they share a lot of the same roots.

We’ve got quite a few articles to help you get started XBMC.

windows home server software


Complete Replacements

If you’re looking for a more complete, feature rich solution to replace the nitty gritty parts of Windows Home Server, then consider these complete OS solutions; these will need your entire server machine though. Both of these are linux based; this means you have the advantage of being able to run anything that runs of linux, too, in case you wanted a machine for tinkering.


A feature rich solution for all your server needs:

  • Smart disk monitoring, with LVM and RAID.
  • Email notifications of system events
  • Debian package management and custom ‘plugin’ system
  • Web-based administration
  • User management and authentication
  • Network link aggregation

Despite the name, it doesn’t come with DLNA media streaming out of the box – you’ll need to install one using the plugin system, but this isn’t a huge task.

windows home server software


Amahi is much the same as OpenMediaVault, but I would say it’s more consumer friendly, media oriented, and includes an “app store” for add-ons. I had some success at getting pooled data drives up and running and wrote some tutorials on Amahi about a year ago, but I expect improvements have been made since then too.

windows home server

Have we missed any of your favourite tools? What did you replace Windows Home Server with; or did you just give up on the whole server idea and move everything to the cloud? Sound off in the comments!

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Comments (30)
  • Vishal Srivastava

    Damn, I’m running Windows 7 Home basic. Will definitely try Amahi.

  • super duper

    i always wanted to build my own media server. any suggestions for which one to choose from among these servers?

    • muotechguy

      Not really. Those are mostly dedicated hardware devices, which are quickly out of date, lose features or incompatible with the latest OSes. Better off using an actual computer which you can update and upgrade components etc.

  • UbuntuGuy

    Been using Ubuntu server for a long time. Currently using v12.04 LTS.
    1 – I use Samba to share files (mapped to) my Windows laptop and NFS4 (auto mounted in fstab) to share files with my Ubuntu laptop.
    2 – You can easily share printers via Samba as well but my printers are wi-fi so not necessary.
    3 – Subsonic to stream music and movies to my Android phone and tablet. Also streams to any browser both in the house and over the internet.
    4 – I use Tonido as my own personal cloud so I can access my files via a browser over the web or from my Androids.
    5 – I use the built-in Ubuntu Backup and SyncBack on the Windows laptop.

    Tried Plex but it was too slow and seemed cumbersome to navigate a large media collection.
    Tried Boxee in the past and also slow and cumbersome.

  • Keith Swartz

    Wow! Good article! Lots of stuff to put on my to-check-out-list to check out! Thanks MakeUseOf!

  • Jim

    FREENAS I think should really be mentioned in this list. If we’re talking file storage and sharing on a home network, its probably a more popular option than Amahi or Mediavault.

    For the more technically inclined Ubuntu Server is a definite contender. Free, stable, and very powerful.


    • Michael

      Interesting article but I’ve just upgraded to whs2011 plus DriveBender.
      This combination gives me a better experience than whsV1 in every way. Running on a HP Microserver, it is fast and stable – very pleased.
      Also remember that whs2011 runs on top of Windows Server 2008 which is a real server operating system in its own right. You can take advantage of all the facilities this brings – run databases, WordPress, whatever you want – completely independent of whs. Pick up a dummy’s guide and take control! :)

    • dragonmouth

      “Windows Server 2008 which is a real server operating system in its own right”
      And Ubuntu Server or CentOS linux are chopped liver?

    • muotechguy

      As opposed to WHS2011, like the comment says.

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This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
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