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

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.

Announcing Windows Server Code Name “Vail”


Today Microsoft has announced the release of a public preview of Windows Server Code Name “Vail.” What is Vail, you may be asking right now. Vail is the successor to Windows Home Server which was released almost three years ago.

Expected in this new release of Vail is DLNA compliance, media streaming over the internet, improved backup and restore functionality, improved storage technologies, and other new features.

Today’s release is of a pre-beta public preview. This build is not intended for use by everyone. I strongly suggest that you ensure that you have a backup of all data that you plan on storing on Vail as there may be unknown issues with Drive Extender in this release.

As expected, Vail is a 64-bit only release, requires 1GB of RAM or more, and minimum 160GB hard drive for installation. If you are interested in trying out today’s release, visit the Microsoft Connect website for details on how to download the build. If you are having issues with the build or want to discuss this release, head on over to the Vail Beta forums. (I’ll be there to help answer questions as best I can.)

Microsoft has also published a Getting Started guide for Vail, which I have mirrored and you can download by clicking here (Right-click to download as some browsers interpret the .DOCX file as a ZIP file).

For those that may be wondering, the build number of today’s release is 7495 and I’ve posted both the CRC and SHA hashes below for the ISO.

To check the CRC of the downloaded ISO, follow these instructions.

To run MSCDCRC against an ISO file that you have downloaded follow these steps.

  1. Download MSCDCRC to the same folder that you downloaded the Vail ISO to (Click here to download MSCDCRC)
  2. Open a Command Prompt window and navigate to the folder from Step 1
  3. Type "MSCDCRC InstallDVD.iso" (without quotes)
  4. The integrity check will take a few moments to complete. After the check is complete compare the CRC and SHA hashes to the hashes posted below
  5. If the hashes match then you have successfully downloaded the ISO

Volume label : GB1SHSxFRE_EN_DVD
CRC             : 0xA7798933
SHA1            : 0xB10EBB38B9A758D67DC70CC3F815A2F65390A570

Students, start your development tools!

logo For those of you who are interested in developing for the new Windows Phone 7 Series, but aren’t quite sure how to do it, well have I got a resource for you.

Today Microsoft has announced a free, yes FREE, training kit for developing on Windows Phone 7 Series. This training kit will walk you through getting started with developing for Windows Phone 7, developing using Silverlight, and developing using XNA. By getting started today with learning how to develop for Windows Phone 7 series, you can get a jumpstart on your competition.

From what I can tell, it looks like this training kit will be updated over time as more is made known about Windows Phone development.

You can download the Windows Phone 7 Developer Tools by clicking here.

You can access the Windows Phone 7 Series Training kit by clicking here.

Codename “Dallas” – What is it and why should you care?

dallas At PDC09, Microsoft introduced “Dallas,” and today Microsoft made some announcements as to the progress of Dallas. Dallas is a service for developers and information workers who are looking for access to premium datasets to use in a variety of ways.

Today at MIX10, Microsoft announced that Dallas has reached the CTP2 stage. As a part of their announcement, Microsoft has introduced new partnerships with Navteq (mapping data), Pitney Bowes, Weather Central, and Dallas as other partners as well such as the US Government, the United Nations, Associated Press, and others. I had the opportunity today to sit down with Moe Khosravy, Group Manager for Dallas, and he told me that by the time Dallas officially launches, there will be 1400 available datasets from the United Nations alone.

Developers, why should you care about Dallas? Dallas offers you the opportunity to access premium data in its raw form, and use that data to create new, interactive, and exciting experiences around the data. Say for example you are building a news app for Windows Phone and you want to use AP stories as your source material. You can through Dallas access AP content, and use that content in your application. Or say that you are developing a website for a nonprofit organization that is focusing on combating crime, and you want to be able to provide the organization with intelligence about crime data and connect it with a map or some other visualization, Dallas will let you do this. You can access the data via OData or Atom, and can create applications for phones, web, and the desktop.

Information Workers, why should you care about Dallas? Dallas provides you with instant access to data that can be used in a variety of ways. Microsoft has said that they will be providing a connector for Office products that will allow you to through an application like Excel, manage this data from initial subscription, to acquisition of data, to helping to create your final product. The example that Khosravy used during our meeting today was that say you were working on a briefing document about crime and you wanted to provide information about crime in your area. All you need to do is through Excel click a button and select the set of crime related data available in Dallas that want to use, and it will down the raw data for you, and you can then manipulate the data to suit your needs.

Throughout my talk with Khosravy and in reading the information on the Dallas website, there is one keyword that stands out and that is the word “marketplace.” I asked about how the marketplace will work, and what content providers can expect from Microsoft in terms of revenue sharing. The question wasn’t answered directly however what was said is that content providers will set their price and then Microsoft will markup the price from there. At least right now from what I’ve been told, Microsoft isn’t using Dallas to generate tons of revenue for themselves. Depending on the popularity of Dallas this could change in the future. At launch, Microsoft will provide three different methods for purchasing data. There will be free trial access, per transaction pricing, and subscription pricing. Free trial access with allow you to preview the data, and perform some basic manipulation of the data, all through the browser, to see if the data is right for you. Per-transaction pricing is simply that. You pay per transaction. This is good for cases where you are developing an application but you’re not sure of the popularity, so instead of paying big subscription fees, you pay per transaction and determine which pricing model works better for you. The subscription based model is setup such that you pay one fee and you get unlimited calls to that data. With subscription pricing, you can also cache the data on your own server to reduce the number of calls made to Dallas for the data.

From what I was told today, the marketplace should go live in the second half of this year. CTP2 is live now, and you can visit and access data from the AP, the United Nations,, and more.

Get excited for MIX 2010


Microsoft’s web development and design conference, MIX, is taking place March 15th through March 17th in Las Vegas. This year’s conference will be extremely exciting with the announcement of Windows Phone 7 Series, more detail on Internet Explorer 9, and more.

I’m so excited about what will be happening at MIX, and I’m excited to announce that I’ll be attending MIX. I also found out that I’ll have the opportunity to interview such people as Bill Buxton, Scott Guthrie, and others that I have not yet been told about.

If you have questions for either Bill or Scott or anybody else that may be at MIX, feel free to comment below or send me an email. I’m tom at (tomontech) dot com


Disclosure: I’m attending as a guest of Microsoft through my affiliation with the Microsoft Student Insider program.

Introduction to Windows Azure

WinAzure_web At PDC 2008, Microsoft unveiled Windows Azure to the world. Windows Azure is Microsoft’s cloud computing offering and last week on February 1st, went live to the broad public.

Cloud computing means that data and computing resources are performed in the “cloud.” (A picture of a cloud is often used as a metaphor to describe the internet.) Instead of managing infrastructure needs and dealing with complex costs associated with the infrastructure, cloud computing enables you to perform complex computing workloads on an infrastructure managed by someone else and for more affordable and manageable costs.

To put some context and clarity around the above definition, here’s a real world example. You operate a large pizza chain and you offer the ability for customers to place their orders online. Currently, you host the online ordering application in house, and are paying cooling, server, human capital, and other costs to keep this application available to your customers. Now it’s Super Bowl Sunday and you experience a huge spike in people trying to order pizzas, and your website crashes. Oh no! You’ve lost sales, you’ve lost customers, and you have a public relations nightmare.

How does Windows Azure help you out of this?

Windows Azure allows you to host your applications in an environment designed for high workloads and scalability.

With Windows Azure, you can host your pizza order application and as demand increases, you can with a few clicks of the mouse turn on more servers to meet the demand of your application. So instead of losing money, customers, and having a public relations nightmare, you make money, keep and earn customers, and have a positive public relations story.

For more information about Windows Azure, visit

As soon as I have a bit more time to get the technical details under my belt, I’ll post the technical details of how Windows Azure works. 🙂