Welcome to part two of my in-depth review of the Windows Home Server Code Name “Vail” Public Preview. Today I’ll be diving in to the new Launchpad and the redesigned Dashboard (was Windows Home Server Console).
Windows Home Server “Vail” introduces the Launchpad. This launchpad provides a central location for launching key tasks on a computer connected to Vail. Out of the box the Launchpad provides access to starting and monitoring backups, accessing the Remote Access website, accessing Shared Folders, and the Server Dashboard. I personally don’t see the point in having the Launchpad. With the Launchpad it requires more clicks to monitor backup status, there is already an icon created on the desktop for both the shared folders and the dashboard, and I can create a shortcut to my Remote Access website in Internet Explorer. While the centralization might be nice for some, I think that for people who are using the current version of WHS they will find it to be more annoying than useful.
In keeping in line with Windows Home Server being a consumer friendly product, Microsoft has updated the dashboard for Vail. My first impression of the Dashboard was that this feels a lot like Dashboard for Small Business Server. In some ways it is. The Home and Small Business Server teams are now one team and development is done by the same group that built SBS. However, the UI is far from complete, and I think it will be safe to expect some major changes to the UI between now and the final product. Vail, being that it’s built on Server 2008 R2, leverages Terminal Services RemoteApp to provide access to the Dashboard from a client computer. A new feature of the dashboard that I think will be useful is the Alert Viewer, which provides detailed information about any issues on the network and provides solutions to the issues. What is interesting to note is that there is now a dedicated Add-ins tab. However, it looks like that this tab is currently functioning as a placeholder as there is nothing on the Add-ins tab currently. Being that this is pre-beta code it’s unclear at this time how add-ins will work in Vail and whether or not add-ins written for v1 will be able to easily be ported over to Vail. From a storage standpoint, Microsoft has added some new buttons that provide easy access to checking the health and integrity of the storage pool and shared data. Another new Vail feature, which I will discuss separately, is the ability to create a HomeGroup on Vail. Using Vail as the HomeGroup hub has the ability to provide further integration with Windows 7. There are some welcome changes to the Vail Dashboard, and I can’t wait to see what it looks like with some more polish.
Coming up in Part 3, Remote Access, Media Sharing and Media Center, HomeGroup support, and final conclusions.