Microsoft made an announcement this week that has really just tipped me over the edge. It’s the last in a string of moves actually; but that’s it. I’m done. I’ll switching all my Windows machines to Linux or a Hackintosh; I’ll be replacing my Home Server with a Time Machine or Linux-based NAS, and Windows will relegated to a virtual machine. Here’s why.
Windows Home Server Is Officially Dead
I’m a huge fan of Windows Home Server. It solved a lot of problems with backups and it’s a great, solid networked file store. I’m also not alone; there are huge numbers of dedicated fans out there that think Home Server was the best thing to come out of Microsoft in a long time. Finally, a decent alternative to messing around with inadequate Linux distros – Home Server just worked.
It was a reliable NFS that could stream media to any DLNA-compatible device in the house, it handled backups of Windows PCs beautifully and even had a hack to emulate Time Machine. It connected nicely with my Media Center PVR to archive recorded TV shows while still making them available to view.
I even stuck by Microsoft when they removed the hard disk aggregating technology called Drive Extender that was present in the original version. It enabled you to take 2 or more smaller disks, and view them as one large storage space, with drive redundancy in a kind of quasi-RAID system. But Microsoft claimed drives were getting larger anyway, and small businesses had no need for the drive technologies. Which almost made sense, until you consider that it was a Home Server – designed for the home; not a Small Business Server.
Now we learn that a similar technology will be coming to Windows 8 in the form of storage spaces; presumably the first version was just a beta test.
Fair enough – we lost that feature – but the 2011 edition of Home Server was still rock solid, so I bought some new larger drives and made a new system powerful enough to run it. Hardware manufacturers updated their line of dedicated Home Server machines. Honestly, I could forgive Microsoft for all the misgivings of mainstream Windows when they’re clearly capable of producing such a reliable product as Home Server.
Yet last week, they quietly announced Home Server was no more. The news was buried discreetly at the bottom of a downloadable FAQ about new server versions. Way to be upfront about that, Microsoft:
Windows Home Server has seen its greatest success in small office/home office (SOHO) environments and among the technology enthusiast community. For this reason, Microsoft is combining the features that were previously only found in Windows Home Server, such as support for DLNA-compliant devices and media streaming, into Windows Server 2012 Essentials and focusing our efforts into making Windows Server 2012 Essentials the ideal first server operating system for both small business and home use—offering an intuitive administration experience, elastic and resilient storage features with Storage Spaces, and robust data protection for the server and client computers.
Windows Server 2012 Essentials will cost around $425. I purchased my OEM copy of Windows Home Server 2011 for $40. That’s quite a difference, and I think it shows what the real issue Microsoft was having with Home Server – by their own admission, the OS had a huge take-up in small offices. For $40, small businesses had all they needed – without having to purchase the full, bloated server editions that cost hundreds more, as well as aftermarket support to keep the things running smoothly.
Home Server was too good – it satisfied a large part of the market sufficiently, and Microsoft didn’t like that. They could be milking businesses for more – so who cares if home users lose out? Perhaps they think cloud storage has made home servers extinct, but I’m not convinced.
Another fantastic product from Microsoft: Media Center is a great DVR, far better than any of the third party options available, and represented a comfortable 1o-foot interface to view media. It was a part of the core system and available to everyone, even if by Microsoft’s statistics only a tiny percentage of users ever made full use of it. When Windows 8 was first announced, any mention of Media Center was suspiciously absent. Eventually, we were informed that Media Center and DVD playback features would not be available by default, and would in fact be an optional upgrade in order to minimise costs.
We now know that an online upgrade of Windows 8 will be a minimal $40, so this is valid – but it does mean that if I were to upgrade my living room PC to Windows 8, I would lose Media Center TV and DVD playback, despite all the codecs already being licensed on my computer.
Furthermore, we still haven’t seen any updated information on what Media Center will look like in Windows 8; which would suggest it won’t change at all. It’s there if you want it the optional upgrade, but it won’t be available by default as yet another interface to clash with the already disjointed Metro and Desktop modes. They could have developed it further – made it a core part of Metro – the simplistic interface is perfect for a Media Center. But no.
So what’s the real reason Microsoft won’t be including DVR functionality in Windows 8? Leaked documents – which a rapid removal by lawyers all but confirmed as true – revealed that the next generation of Xbox console codenamed Xbox 720, will include full DVR functionality and a much enhanced media experience. Microsoft wants the Xbox 720 to be the only bit of kit in your living room.
Microsoft knows that the Xbox has now become less a games console and more of a home media environment; a DVR would complete that. If that functionality were available in Windows 8 tablets and notebooks, a large proportion of potential Xbox 720 buyers (non-core gamers) would overlook the console.
Make the Xbox the center of the living room; put a touchscreen Windows 8 PC and tablet into every consumers’ pocket; and continue milking the enterprise for all they can. This appears to be their gameplan, and in terms of maximising revenue, it’s probably a good one. Personally though, I feel let down. If I haven’t found a suitable DVR and Media Center replacement by the time the Xbox 720 comes out, I’m sure I’ll be getting one; but my Windows PC will never be sullied by the multicoloured tiles of Windows 8, and my Home Server is officially being re-allocated to a new Hackintosh. I might even go crazy and install Linux on something; who knows!? For now though, goodbye Microsoft.
How about you? I think we’ve talked about Windows 8 enough elsewhere, but were you a fan of Home Server or Media Center? Are you happy with the choice to kill off Home Server and move DVR functionality to the Xbox? Let us know in the comments below.
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