Microsoft and pals impose will on digital living room; 'IT' won't work

Microsoft and pals impose will on digital living room; 'IT' won't work

Summary: The CES show has kicked off with the Windows Home Server as a headliner and the most striking thing is the language used by tech's titans. To wit: --Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates' keynote touches on the need for home servers as the software giant rolled out a bevy of products.

TOPICS: Servers

The CES show has kicked off with the Windows Home Server as a headliner and the most striking thing is the language used by tech's titans. To wit:

--Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates' keynote touches on the need for home servers as the software giant rolled out a bevy of products. Everyone is going to want one and these servers are going to simplify your life. Gates says:

"This Windows Home Server is for homes where you've got either multiple PCs, or Xboxes, the case where you want to have your storage available at all times to the different devices."

--HP chimes in with its "little iron" concept for the home, technically still a server--a MediaSmart one (spec sheet).

--NextGen Home Experience details how the next generation house will operate. The catch: Ed Bott reports there's $100,000 in wiring and automation equipment behind the scenes. Think of a mainframe next to the heat pump in the basement.

Add these comments up and one thing becomes clear: IT giants are trying to impose their will on the digital living room. And it isn't going to work because the industry can't even put their vision into plain English. Memo to marketers: The least you could do is come up with something better than Home Server (see prototype). Try Home Hub or something. You'd think this would be marketing 101. For example, no one wants to buy an MP3 player, but consumers will swarm to an iPod. The latter says "buy me" to consumers, the other appeals to gear heads.


Bottom line: The digital living room vision outlined on Sunday doesn't scream simplicity. Just look under the hood of the Home Server. You are never going to walk down the street and say to someone, "wow that's a cool home server." There are very few people who want to play network administrator on the weekend.

Gates may say Apple has trouble ahead, but Steve Jobs and company get the simplicity thing. Sure, it's a complicated tech world, but the job of vendors is to simplify things.

I have little faith that these home servers, networking of various devices and vision of a digital living room is going to happen in the next 10 years as laid out by Gates & Co. The whole concept makes Apple's commercials look like documentaries.

Sure, you could argue that Microsoft's home servers are going to focus on homes with multiple PCs, but even that seems like a tough sell. For instance, I have a multiple PC home but I'm also a card-carrying member of PWHNPAVCR (people who have never programmed a VCR). Yes, folks it's always a blinking midnight at my house. It's complicated and I have better things to do.

Apparently, folks with more technology skills are also a bit skeptical.

In the end, no one knows for sure how the digital living room will develop--that's part of the reason why companies like Microsoft are placing bets everywhere--but simplicity is going to win. No one who wants to watch the Sopranos is going to wrestle with a server to deliver the goods.

Perhaps Apple has a better plan. Or maybe Sony gets its act together. One thing is certain--no company is going to win by bringing IT terms and complexity to your living room.

Topic: Servers

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  • The focus is on simplicity


    I couldn't agree more with you about the dumb a.. name they chose, but the entire goal and focus of the home server is based on simplicity.

    It doesn't even have a monitor or cables to connect. Its basically a plug and play media center with backup, remote access, and other cool features.

    Stop drinking the Apple cool aid and do a little of objective reporting.
    • so - how do you troubleshoot it?

      "It doesn't even have a monitor or cables to connect. Its basically a plug and play media center with backup, remote access, and other cool features."

      So - if it crashes, has some bugs, or manages to gain a virus, how do you troubleshoot it?
      • Read the specs

        Read the specs.

        You can trouble shoot it with no problem.
        • You betcha

          [i]You can trouble shoot it with no problem.[/i]

          Just ssh in and [b]tail /var/log/messages[/b]
          Yagotta B. Kidding
    • wireless, plug and play ?

      wireless, plug and play,?
      wireless --- plug and play ... hmmmm
      Reverend MacFellow
  • No Apple kool-aid here

    And if the Home Server is simple it'll be a hit despite the clunky name. I'm just skeptical about it and just think the word "server" may scare some folks. That's all. We've had more digital living room server attempts than I can count. We'll see.
    Larry Dignan
  • Home Servers Must Be 99.999% Reliable

    [b]The biggest challenge facing "Home Server" is reliabillity.[/b]

    Like a server in any business, a "Home Server" (HS) needs to be 99.999% reliable, if it is going to be the focal point/server for multiple functions / workstations. This is especially true if the server is an intregal part of a home automation and/or security system.

    My "wired home" (10Base-T / 802.11g / X10) includes:

    > A Network Attached Storage (NAS) unit for centralized storage
    > Three PCs and a two transient laptops
    > A security system
    > An X10 device control & monitoring system
    > Multiple large screen displays
    > A whole house audio system

    I would be glad to consolidate some of these functions into a single "Home Server," if I knew I could depend on it to be up 24/7/365 and it had an easy to use interface. I would also want it to support wireless Thin Client touchscreen displays, that were designed to be hung on a wall or placed on an end table or nightstand like a picture.
    John Westra
    • Go with Linux then . . .

      Go with a Linux distro with only the software needed to make it work. Then you'll get your reliability.
      • I doubt it

        99.999% take more than an OS to achieve. You need like a RAID 10 system and that's a minimum of 6 harddrive. Then you need redundant power supplies. A UPS that can keep you power for at least an hour. Even that I doubt would get you 99.999% reliablity. A second replicated server with identical hardware configurations would though. How much do you think a system like that would cost. I'm figuring $90,000 as that's what corporations pay.
  • Clear Wire Network in a box

    ClearWire's "antenna" is a network in a box. You connect to your PC via a network connection. I see nothing valuable in the home server described by Gates. The Clearwire antenna connects to other devices through the home's electrical wires. It connects to the Internet by broad band wireless. It is just so radio shack. Heads of households have always found the radio shack approach comforting. Few ever are made to feel stupid with that approach.

    ClearWire provides disk storage for a home internet site but of course that is also provided by AOL and other access providers. Combine with gotomypc and nothing else is needed - certainly not a home server. Lets kill this consumer-rip-off ala Xbox notion right now. It is a none starter. It is also not by accident that ClearWire provides its fastest and greatest broadband service in the town where the EU will impose anti-trust sanctions on Microsoft. No one in that town will view Microsoft solutions as more than dumping of obsolete technology on defensless consumers.

    Microsoft management has missed. Consumers are not the ones to be made to make shareholders whole. Management must drop the missed products and follow the industry to do so. Better technology such as Clear Wire is available to Microsoft as well as every one else. Its probably Linux. Microsoft became a major reseller of Linux with the Novell marriage. Lets not pretend its busness as usual or that Bill Gates is competent.

    Frank L. Mighetto CCP
  • I have one ...

    at least it's similar, that is. The concept is: server in the basement, got it, which allows me to stream video and audio to the 360 in the family room and PC's and Tivos in the other rooms, got it, and I only need to add storage to one location. No larger drives needed elsewhere.

    It sounds like they are adding to this seemless backup for recovery and better remote access.

    I fail to see why this is a bad idea. It works for me.
    • I have one too

      And it works pretty well. BUT, and it's a big but, operating the thing is far from simple. Well, at least not as simple for the average joe as it should be. If they manage to create something that's automatic, simple to use, bulletproof, and, more important, CHEAP, that would be interesting.
      Fact is, my current Home server costs about 200$ on used hardware. If they can make it THAT cheap, it would be interesting, otherwise...
      • Me too

        I've been running server 2003 on some old kit (dual p3 750 with 1.2tb hard disk space) that i setup 5 years ago I currently use a couple of pdas as remotes to control linux/winamp dummy boxes around the house and i've had some custom control interfaces for management of my music and videos i don't see where the difference is, this will mearly bring this kind of technology to the mass's with easy interfaces. Just to extend on that i've also installed in my last two cars media pc with pda's as remotes, with sync to the house so i can upload and download music vid's etc seemlessly. obviously setting this up was relatively complicated because of the exstent i've taken it to but now its so easy even my 94 year old Nan can use it!
      • If they can make it THAT cheap

        Forget it, they can't, and won't. The purpose is making money.

        MS has to find a new field to harvest, now that the corporate and the private field isn't that attractive anymore. Who needs a new version of office? What's really missing in the current offerings - except some better security and leaner programming, which MS isn't capable of delivering. After all they have tried and failed for decades now.
        Who needs Vista? Will my business be better by changing from XP to Vista, will my bottom-line become better? Will my daughter's use of MSN and live chat be better by shelling out several hundred dollars for Vista to replace XPpro?. The rest of the family uses flexible, secure and cheap Linux, amply filling every need.
        MS didn't improve corporate IT much, actually it's only now - 20 years after giving the world Windows, that we slowly get back in control by using central control and deployment, and the wise guys drop the PC altogether and use thin clients.
        Should we now bring the same havoc into our homes? Not this guy. I work IT professionally, not likely that I will continue when I get home.
  • Maybe you people should look at this

    Yes, I know your job is to think of ways to bash MS and come up with reasons for why WHS sucks, but maybe, just maybe you should actually watch the below linked to video first, and then decide. It is a video demo of Home Server.

    I am excited about it for the main reason that it [b]is[/b] really simple. If you can point me to [b]any[/b] other home server that is easier to set up and use, then I would be interested. Oh, and this should then include the automatic computer backups (including full distaster recover functionality and multiple file versions), remote desktop functionality, media steaming functionality (also to Xbox), seamless storage expansion, built-in storage failover functionality, etc.

    I will be interested in your suggestions for alternatives, since this story is about WHS [b]not[/b] being easy, right?
    • Oops, here is the link!
      • Looks Excellent!

        The demo of the product looks very, very nice. I really like server's remote access feature. Great job MS!
        P. Douglas
    • saw the video

      and it just makes my point more: Administration is mentioned a bunch at the beginning, storage administration, etc. Creating exceptions etc etc. Activating servers.

      The best line that would actually sell this thing is that the Windows Home Server takes care of you computers. That's simple.
      Larry Dignan
      • I have to agree, Larry

        It's not the product so much as the approach to the consumer. When Microsoft learns
        to speak in language most people speak, they may make some headway. Until then
        -- I too doubt this will stick.
        • You do realize...

          You do realize that this product has not been released yet, right? And that right now it is not being pitched to the public.

          When they do start selling this product, the message will be revised for the target audience.

          If you look at the video then the point that WHS takes care of your existing computers, is certainly made a few times.