Word is that Microsoft is introducing a Windows Home Server at CES this year.
I think home servers will always be a niche market. Most people have no need for them, and the things they _can_ do for a home can be done other ways that are arguably more appealing for home users.
Let’s think a bit about this. What uses might a home server have?
- A centralized place to store data, accessible by multiple machines.
- A place to back up important data
- A web server for friends and family
There might be other uses, but these are the main ones people talk about. So let’s look at these one-by-one and see if we can’t come up with something more appealing.
A centralized place to store data, accessible by multiple machines.
The “centralized” part is probably not that important – having the data accessible by multiple machines is. And this then assumes the home has multiple computers! You can’t sell a home server to a home until they have more than one computer! So – what if instead of selling them a home server, you sell them a second Mac? When you plug it in, it uses Airport or Ethernet and Rendezvous to detect other Macs (and maybe other Windows/Linux/etc machines) on your network and offers to set up (insert sexy marketing name here) “account synchronization” between the machines. Once this is set up, accounts and user data are replicated between all the machines on your network. Now all data is accessible from all machines, and you have a little bit of protection should one machine die – its data is on the other machines on your home network. This could even work with laptops – when they can see each other (or the other machines on your home network), they synchronize data. When you take them away from your home network, they have a complete local copy of your data you can use at Starbucks.
Instead of buying a “server”, which sits somewhere without a keyboard, mouse, or display, you have a whole ‘nother _computer_, which you can actually _use_. It seems to me that it would be far more appealing to have another computer than a strange little box sitting on shelf that you don’t actually directly _use_.
A place to back up important data
Time Machine in Leopard (Mac OS X 10.5) might help users actually start backing up their data. This gets more important each day as hard drive sizes get bigger and bigger, making the amount of data you can lose bigger and bigger. But Time Machine is useless without a second hard drive or a server. So – you can get people to buy an external hard drive (or with a Mac Pro, install a second internal drive) – or get them to buy a second Mac. Like the account sync, Macs on your network could act as Time Machine repositories for each other. (Even better, I’d like to see future Macs come standard with two hard drives that are mirrored and user-replacable. When a drive fails, the user is notified that they need to replace it.)
A web server for friends and family
While a home server can handle this task, it requires special network setup for most home users. Most home users have Internet connectivity through a router with NAT – so any given computer, even the server, cannot be directly reached from the Internet without reconfiguring the router. This is beyond the capabilities of most home users. Right now, it’s arguably easier to use a hosted account like .Mac or one of the many alternatives to host web pages.
With a little software magic from Apple, building on lots of technology that already exists in Tiger or that has been announce for Leopard, owning multiple Macs would give most of the benefits of having a home server, plus additional capabilities that no home server could give. I know I would find it easier to explain to my Mom the benefits of having two Macs over the concept of having a Mac and a “home server”.