Microsoft and its chairman, Bill Gates, have had a vision of a totally interconnected world for nearly two decades – ever since Gates presented his now fabled "Information at Your Fingertips" speech and video at Comdex Fall 1990 in Las Vegas.
Many of Gates' predictions – ubiquitous e-mail and online access, wireless connectivity for devices, tablet computing, unified communications, broadband, and other parts of his "digital lifestyle" vision – have come to pass – if not all the way he originally envisioned them. (For instance, Microsoft initially missed the Internet's importance, preferring instead to pursue online access via its then proprietary Microsoft Network or MSN service.)
This week, one long-awaited piece of its strategy for the connected home is finally falling into place. The company announced it is shipping Windows Home Server.
The company announced Monday that consumers can now pre-order HP's new MediaSmart Servers, for delivery later this month. That fulfills one of the promises that Gates made back in January during his keynote speech at the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show, also in Las Vegas. HP is the main launch partner for Windows Home Server.
The servers were originally expected a bit earlier in the second half of the year. But a September software update caused HP to wait to test and install it before releasing its home servers.
In his CES keynote, Gates said 2007 would be a critical year in which an increasing number of users will set up their own home networks with Vista PCs, music players, game consoles, and media centers. A key enabling piece of technology – just as in any multi-PC work environment – will be a dedicated server.
"This [Windows Home Server] is for homes where you've got multiple PCs and Xboxes, where you want to have all your storage available at all times, to all devices," Gates said in his January keynote.
As it turns out, market conditions may turn out to be favorable for the arrival of Microsoft's entry into the home server arena, at least according to one analyst.
"In the U.S. today, more than half of all PC households have more than one PC," Roger Kay, president and founder of analyst firm Endpoint Technologies, told InternetNews.com. "[Windows Home Server's] timeliness is based on the fact that precious memories are becoming digital," he added.
The software performs automated backups of networked PCs, and provides remote access to information on the server, as well as enabling file-sharing integration with Microsoft's Xbox 360 game console and Zune music player. It also offers advanced storage management features.
Fundamentally, however, what it provides is a large storage and backup system that is inexpensive and simple for consumers to set up and maintain.
Consumers can pre-order HP's MediaSmart Server via Amazon.com, BestBuy.com, Buy.com, Circuit City.com and CompUSA.com, according to Microsoft statements. A 500 GB version costs $599 while a 1 TB model costs $749.
Microsoft has signed up more than a dozen hardware partners to offer Windows Home Server. These include Fujitsu Siemens, Gateway, and Iomega. Additionally, third-party software developers are readying 35 add-ins for the server, the company said.
"The ultimate goal is to help consumers better get their arms around the digital lifestyle [by making Windows Home Server] very simple to set up … [in order] to get the file protection, organizing, and sharing capabilities," Joel Sider, senior product manager for Windows Home Server, told InternetNews.com. More than 100,000 users beta tested the server software, he added.