Microsoft trying to ignite Windows home server market

It signs up two vendors, Via and Shuttle Computer, to build Windows Home Server systems

Microsoft Thursday said two smaller Taiwanese hardware makers will ship PCs preloaded with its year-old Windows Home Server operating system, joining PC market leader Hewlett-Packard and others.

At the International Consumer Electronics Show, Via Technologies and Shuttle Computer Group both plan to show off two models of home servers, which are meant to be easily managed central repositories for storing and backing up photos, movies and other files.

Known for its stylish, bookshelf-size PCs, Shuttle's two home servers, the SH-K4500 and the SH-K4800, are also compact, Intel Celeron 450-powered (single-core 2.2-GHz) systems with 1GB of RAM that can hold either two or three hard drives.

Via, meanwhile, will offer one mini-desktop PC (ARTiGO A2000) similar to Shuttle's that holds up to a pair of hard drives, and one mini-server rack (NSD-7800) that can hold up to eight hard drives for storage-hungry users. Both run Via's modest C7 processor along with 1GB of RAM.

By comparison, the HP MediaSmarts, including new Mac-friendly models introduced last week, use 2-GHz Celeron CPUs, offer 2GB of RAM and hold up to four hard drives.

Windows Home Server was released in the fall of 2007 after a major buildup by Microsoft.

A modified version of the business-oriented Windows Server 2003, WHS either comes preinstalled on specially built home server systems or can be bought for about US$150 and installed by users on any PC.

Reviewers such as Computerworld 's Preston Gralla say WHS is a "surprisingly powerful networking tool that offers some of the sophisticated networking capabilities you would expect from big-boy servers," while doing "a very good job of doing most of the things that home users need."

Such praise has yet to translate into a large ecosystem of WHS vendors.

Besides Shuttle, Via and HP, Fujitsu and a European vendor, Tranquil, are among a handful of larger PC makers building WHS machines today.

That pales in comparison to the massive number of hardware makers shipping Windows PCs.

Nor has it translated into huge sales of WHS, either. IDC predicted in a report last spring that only about 80,000 home servers, most of them WHS systems, would be shipped worldwide in 2008.

Home servers remain "a small market even now," said IDC analyst Richard Shim, one of the co-authors of the report, in a recent interview.

Shim sees strong long-term demand for home servers. His report predicts that 1.1 million systems will ship worldwide by 2012, mostly to consumers in developed countries. However, Shim said the economic downturn could hurt sales in the near term.

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