Gates home server vision flawed, expensive

Gates home server vision flawed, expensive

Summary: Bill Gates says everyone needs a home server, running Windows of course, and costing between $500 and $1000. Poppycock. All you need is a network attached disk appliance. Common in enterprises for years, they are just beginning to become approachable for the home user.

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TOPICS: Hardware
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In a CNET Interview, Bill Gates says that everyone needs a "home server":

If you have got multiple PCs than you want files that are available all the time no matter which PCs are turned on or off and you'd also like to have a server that when you just add just add storage it automatically takes advantage of that. You don't have to think about drive names or moving files around.

The need for this is real but the suggested implementation is flawed. What we need is a cheap network attached disk appliance. This device would be plugged into your home ethernet router, and then accessed wirelessly by every machine in your house. Standard protocols would be supported so that other devices could discover and use the space - for example a Tivo, a wireless camera, an Apple iTV, etc... 

Serving disk space doesn't require a full blown server, especially not one running a copy of Windows as I'm sure Gates was implying. For years, companies like EMC and NetApp have supplied network attached storage for businesses. It's time for these systems to trickle down to home users. A few devices, including one affectionately called "the slug" are available for the home but they're still a bit too expensive ($50-100 plus the disk) and hard to use for the average person. Once someone figures out the right packaging, price, and ease-of-use, these devices could really take off.

Gates didn't even mention this, but in addition to disk space, homes need network attached printers as well. These printers are available today for a small premium from companies like HP. While you could attach a printer to a shared file server, why bother? A separate device for each shared service (disk and print) will be simpler and interchangeable.

Topic: Hardware

Ed Burnette

About Ed Burnette

Ed Burnette is a software industry veteran with more than 25 years of experience as a programmer, author, and speaker. He has written numerous technical articles and books, most recently "Hello, Android: Introducing Google's Mobile Development Platform" from the Pragmatic Programmers.

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9 comments
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  • Its too early to say "Flawed and Expensive"

    I think its to too early to put aside the Home Server as Flawed and Expensive, when the full features or capabilities of this machine are not out. I dont think by using the word 'server' it means the complicated machine used as the backend of a business. I think it means a simplified version of it to perform the features required in a living room.

    When you say "Serving disk space doesn't require a full blown server", I think you were wrong to say its a FULL BLOWN SERVER. who said its a full blown SERVER. Using the word SERVER does not make it complicated and expensive.
    5ri
    • Flawed and Expensive indeed

      Gates has made no secret of the fact he envisions the internet and Microsoft in every aspect of the home, not just the living room. From DRM for streaming media to the "intelligent refrigerator" that reports contents to the server, which then tracks and syncs your grocery list.

      But the heart of the article is simply, do we want a centralized architecture or a distributed one? Are you better off today with the MS Office integrated suite or do you miss the independent growth and best of breed applications like WordPerfect, Lotus, dBase, and Designer? Yes we're all tired of the array of wall warts and the little blinking boxes, certainly there is room for improvement there, but a central server is not the panacea. What is missing in all this is the one thing Microsoft has shunned and indeed spurned, reliability. Where's the RAID, where's the archive, and where's the system survivability (e.g. degraded modes)? I don't trust Gates' centralized approach for experience has taught me it subverts best of breed and its constant preventative maintenance will not improve my quality of life.

      What's needed is the next super application. One that is net based, leverages existing internet protocols on a hybrid network of real time and information systems. It must have provisions for managing energy (e.g. solar cells and heaters, drapes, and HVAC), lighting, and security. These functions must be survivable (i.e. redundant or degraded mode support) and performance oriented via trend and optimization, not just hard scheduling. In the media world, we need DRM, licensing, recording and archive management. I'm not buying more than one copy of MS Office for my home. Live with it Bill!
      KnotSewFast
  • Update

    The excerpts from the Interview with Bill Gates, doesnt seem to match with your opinion of Complicated and Expensive.

    "..The goal is to get devices that can cost less than $500."

    ".. That's a good question. As you get a product that's say, ..., viewed as just dead simple to use".
    5ri
    • Cost v. Price

      [i]"..The goal is to get devices that can cost less than $500."[/i]

      This is consistent with Steve Ballmer's prediction that hardware will become free. The manufactured cost of the "home server" hardware is projected to approach zero, with Microsoft Windows Home Server Edition being the only thing the customer pays for, total retail price in the $1000 range.
      Yagotta B. Kidding
  • NetApp and EMC

    Keep in mind that there's a race on between Microsoft and Samba with regard to network protocols. MS has been mutating their network line protocols to prevent exactly the kind of cheap network appliances that you're describing and is moving into producing its own NAS server software that NetApp and EMC will have to license in place of their own software (at least as far as it running in a virtualized container.)
    Yagotta B. Kidding
  • And Security

    The home also needs a device that acts as a security tool preventing garbage from getting in AND out of home networks...
    wonsil9
  • I think the premise is worse than that...

    I do not know to think of someone that thinks that all the locally stored content that device is meant to house is more secure than it is today.

    If your house goes up in flames then, most likely, so will your digital collection.

    The basic premise is flawed.
    sda2
  • network printers

    Brother has some network multifunction injets that are cheap ($89CAD) that attach to the network and are a wiz to use! I bought one during boxing week and its great.

    If i had nas on my home network, with silent network (internet) backup and easy add to disk space (add drive = more space)
    gavin_hay
  • Great article

    The future is devices working together without a central hub - without the one
    machine to rule them all. There are already cheap, high storage network devices
    for the home user. Apple has been selling its AirportExpress for years, it has a
    USB port so that a USB printer can be attached and it appears as a USB printer to
    any PC on the network. All that is required is standard USB drivers for the printer.
    There are plenty of other network print servers doing a similar job.

    Bill's vision is that a PC running Windows [b]must[/b] be at the heart of any
    solution. About time he realised that home users are already running home
    networks without any dependency on a particular PC OS - be it Windows, Mac OS,
    Linux or UNIX (or anything else you care to mention).
    Fred Fredrickson