Consumers may not be able to go out and buy Windows Home Server (WHS) pre-installed on computers quite yet, but for do-it-yourselfers and small PC builders, the dam has already broken.
The software-only package for small system builders can be ordered from a few online retailers, though some currently have it listed as backordered.
In the past couple of weeks, the system builder edition has started showing up for sale at sites like Newegg.com and Buy.com at prices that range from $189.99 down to $170.99. Of course, purchasers of the system builder edition will have to buy or build their own server hardware and install the system software themselves.
The product is part of Microsoft's continuing quest to ensconce itself in consumers' homes and living rooms.
In early January, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates debuted WHS at the 2007 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, with plans for availability this year.
"This 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 at CES.
WHS will provide automated backups of networked PCs, remote accessibility, and file-sharing integration with other devices, as well as advanced storage management capabilities. It is often referred to as a "thin" version of Windows Server 2003.
But Microsoft has designs on more than just unified storage in the home.
"We think - and we're hearing the same from the solution provider and ISV crowd - that Home Server is also a new platform for 'smart homes' that can power all sorts of interesting applications," said a posting on the Windows Home Server team blog in August.
Users waiting to buy the pre-installed version of WHS, however, still have a while to wait.
The software was released to manufacturing in July. At that point, Microsoft's U.S. hardware partners, including HP and Gateway, could begin making final adjustments to their systems. However, on September 25, Microsoft released the first update to the software, and that seems to have slowed things down a little.
"There were still some usability updates to the software [added in the September update] to make the installation process easier – to make it really simple," a Microsoft spokesperson. The idea, he said, is for consumers to be able to take the server home and plug it in and easily configure it to work with their existing PCs and networks.
HP, which is still slated to be the first of Microsoft's launch partners to release its pre-installed servers in the U.S., decided to incorporate the September update into its offerings, the spokesperson added. That puts final shipment from HP, and possibly other vendors, "later this fall in time for the holidays," he said.
Although he's not any making predictions about how many servers HP and others stand to sell by the end of the year, Roger Kay, president and founder of analyst firm Endpoint Technologies, thinks Microsoft is on the right track.
"I think it's [WHS] going to be one of Microsoft's hits for the holidays," Kay "The home server market is just dawning [but] people are learning that their photos and other memories are no longer in a shoe box under the bed, and if they just leave them on a hard drive, at some point they're going to be unhappy," he added.