Early version of Windows Home Server 'Vail' leaks to the Web

It's been ages since I've heard anything about the next full release of Windows Home Server, codenamed Vail. But thanks to one reader who sent me a pointer on January 27, it looks like Vail is in the midst of private testing, and will include both "on-premises and cloud technologies."

It's been ages since I've heard anything about the next full release of Windows Home Server, codenamed Vail. But thanks to one reader who sent me a pointer on January 27, it looks like Vail is in the midst of private testing.

(Check out my ZDNet colleague Zack Whittaker's gallery of screen shots of Vail, plus hisVail  YouTube video.)

There's something marked as "Windows Home Server Vail CTP4" (Community Technology Preview Release 4) that recently leaked to the Web and is downloadable via  torrents. According to the description of that download, Vail, the next version of WHS "builds upon both on-premises and cloud technologies" for home and SOHO (small office/home office) users.

More from the download description:

"Out of the box, Vail provides simple file sharing, remote access, home computer backup, expandable storage through Drive Extender, and media streaming both inside and outside the home. Vail also contains an application catalog and product-wide extensibility model so that new services such as anti-virus, online sharing, and home automation can be seamlessly and easily added to the solution."

Like previous versions of WHS, Vail will be available pre-installed on OEM systems. It also will be sold as a standalone software package to system builders.

The system requirements for the CTP4 version are listed as a 2 GHz x64 processor, 1 GB of RAM, and at least one 120 GB hard drive. NTFS is the only supported file system.

Microsoft delivered a "PowerPack" update to Windows Home Server users in the fall of 2009. Officials have not been willing to talk about Microsoft's plans for the next version of WHS. Microsoft execs did start talking about WHS being not just a product for home users, but also for small-business users last fall, repositioning WHS as the entry-level product in the Windows Server family (below Windows Server Foundation).

Based on the information from the torrent download, it sounds like Vail went to a group of selected private testers some time ago, if it's already up to CTP4. I wonder if the final delivery target for Vail is 2010 or 2011. I've asked Microsoft for an update and if/when I get one, I'll add it to this post. Meanwhile, any testers out there have an inkling about other Vail features in the works and/or when it will ship?

Update: The Softies aren't talking at all about Vail at all. From a spokesperson for the WHS team: "We are not ready to discuss future products but will certainly let you know as soon as more details become available."

Update No. 2: Folks who are downloading Vail CTP4 are starting to post tweets and reports about some of the features and functionality. Windows enthusiast Robert McLaws noted that the code base upon which Vail is built is Windows Server 2008 R2 and that there was both a Standard and a Premium version. Another downloader said there is an app store built into Vail that will allow for add-ins, perhaps like these, but said the store didn't appear to be functional yet.