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A quick look back at Microsoft's Windows Home Server and its official children's book

windows home server

In just a few days, Microsoft will end support for Windows Server 2012 after over 11 years on the market. Ironically, the launch of the server OS in 2012 was also the official end for another server product from Microsoft that had first gone on sale on October 10, 2007, nearly 16 years ago. It was called Windows Home Server, and it was an effort to expand Microsoft's home operating systems beyond just PCs.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates officially announced Windows Home Server during his CES 2007 keynote in January 2007. Microsoft's press release for the reveal stated this about this new OS at the time:

Windows Home Server automatically backs up home PCs and provides a central location for storing a family’s photographs, music, videos and documents. Using a personalized Windows Live Internet address, people will be able to remotely access digital content on Windows Home Server when they are away from home.

Windows Home Server was based on Windows Server 2003 R2 but was designed to be easier to use compared to the fairly complex user interface included with "normal" server-based operating systems. Microsoft created the Home Server Console for the OS, designed to be accessed remotely from a connected home PC. Because of this, hardware made specifically for Windows Home Server didn't need a video card.

The first version of Windows Home Server had a very interesting feature called File Extender. Here's how Microsoft described it in a blog post from February 2007:

Windows Home Server Drive Extender provides the reliability benefits of RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) with the ability to use internal and/or external hard drives (USB 2.0 or FireWire) of varying sizes for additional storage. Once you add an external hard disk it is considered part of the home server storage, and you should not plan on removing it unless you no longer need it attached to your home server. New hard drives added to Windows Home Server are formatted before they are added to the available disk space, so be sure to copy any valuable content off of an external hard drive before running the Add wizard in the Windows Home Server Console.

hp media server

HP was the first to announce a hardware product made specifically for Windows Home Server with its HP MediaSmart Server product. Later, in 2007, other PC makers like Fujitsu-Siemens, Gateway, Iomega, Lacie, and Medion pledged to make their own hardware products that would use Windows Home Server.

Windows home server

The launch of the OS also came with one of the oddest promotions Microsoft ever did. The company released a short illustrated children's book called, we kid you not, Mommy, Why is There a Server in the House? It's both fun to read and also very strange. You can check it out on the Internet Archive website.

The release of Windows Home Server and the first hardware devices, like the HP Media Server, ended up being a sales disappointment all around. In December 2010, HP said it would no longer make its MediaSmart Servers, which was a huge blow for the Home Server OS.

In 2010, Microsoft announced plans for a major update to Windows Home Server, called, naturally, Windows Home Server 2011. However, the "update" got rid of its File Extender feature. At the time, Microsoft stated that many customers complained about the it. Microsoft claimed that users said if its drive replication feature didn't work, they could lose their data.

Another reason that was given for this feature's removal was that hard drives themselves were getting bigger, so there was no need to merge several disks into one storage pool.

That decision didn't make many fans of Windows Home Server very happy at all. File Extender was an easy way to expand storage with multiple drives, and the feature's removal likely was the final nail in the operating system's coffin.

Windows Home Server 2011 launched in March 2011, but the damage had already been done. In July 2012, when Microsoft revealed the SKUs for Windows Server 2012, the Home Server was not among those listed. Microsoft quickly confirmed that it would no longer release any future versions of Windows Home Server, stating it would focus "our efforts into making Windows Server 2012 Essentials the ideal first server operating system for both small business and home use."

Today, home use of server hardware is mostly for tech enthusiasts and home theater fans who want to watch their movies on a local hard drive rather than from a streaming service. Microsoft's attempt at expanding its server OS in the home fell far short.

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