Windows Home Server “Vail” Public Preview – In-Depth – Part 1

After playing with the Public Preview of Vail for a few days now (Full Disclosure: Microsoft released it to myself and select others last week) I’m ready to provide an in-depth review of the Public Preview.

To provide some background for those that may be new to Windows Home Server, it is a product that Microsoft released in the Fall of 2007 as a way for consumers to have a central location to protect their data, connect family and friends, organize their precious memories and important data, and would grow with them. This first version of Windows Home Server has proved wildly successful and almost three years later it’s due for a new version. (For more information about the current version of Windows Home Server visit http://www.microsoft.com/windowshomeserver)

Enter Vail. Vail is the next major release of Windows Home Server. Vail will be a 64-bit only release based on Windows Server 2008 R2. Microsoft has not said anything about the feature set for Vail yet, so I’m only able to go off of what is in the Public Preview build.

Let’s dive in to Vail.

Server Setup

As the current version of Windows Home Server is designed to be a headless (no keyboard, mouse, or monitor) system, we can also expect that Vail will be the same. Judging by the way that Server Setup is done, it looks like Vail is designed to continue being a headless system. One major change though between WHSv1 and Vail is that instead of installing the Connector software first and then walking through OOBE (Out-Of-Box Experience), setup is performed via a web browser first, and then you will be directed to the Connector software installer. In this build, setup is fairly straight forward. Setup asks for the usual items, server name, password, Windows Update settings, etc. However, one thing that it does not ask which surprises me somewhat is for date and time settings. Mismatched date and time settings between server and client can cause many problems.  According to the release notes provided by Microsoft, this is a known issue and we can expect to see it resolved in a later release. After the server is configured, it reboots and then prompts you to browse to another built-in webpage to download the Connector software.

Connector Installation

Not much as changed between WHSv1 and Vail when it comes to installing the Client Connector. Currently, you navigate to http://servername/connect which then redirects you to the same http://servername:55000/ website that exists in v1. The look of the installer has changed, and I expect it to change up through the Beta release. As a part of the installer it will install .NET Framework 3.5 SP1 if you don’t already have that installed, and it will verify that your system meets the requirements for installation. According to the release notes, Vail supports Windows XP SP3, Windows Vista, and Windows 7.

In Part 2, I’ll discuss the new Launchpad and Dashboard features.

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