Some of the most common computer headaches I have heard lately deal with the problem of using multiple PC’s in the home. Many folks now have more than one desktop PC, or a desktop and a laptop in their home. Unless you prescribe to the “one PC per person” idea, the problem is compounded by the location of individual’s data and settings.
So here’s what I propose: Windows Server, Home Edition
This would be a scaled back and customized version of Windows Small Business Server, running on specialized hardware, and it would simplify home networking to the point where everyone could enjoy the benefits of modern network management.
Form Factor: It should look like a consumer electronics device, and be at home in an A/V stand.
Storage: 200+ GB Hard Drive, Optional RAID 1, DVD Burner
Interfaces: USB, IR, Composite Video & Audio, DVI, Ethernet, Wireless 802.11A/B/G, Bluetooth, Front Panel Touchscreen LCD, Dual Smartcard Readers. Modem.
This conglomeration of hardware would be sold by OEM’s bundled with Windows Server, Home Edition, similar to how Media Center PC’s and Windows Storage Server are sold today.
So, what would this strange beast do? How would it make your life better?
1. Email Collection & Backup – There would be a customized implementation of Exchange running on the server. It would collect mail for all of the users and make it accessible locally. If you have 4 different email accounts, this server will make them all available in one place. Hotmail, POP3, etc. Give me options to leave mail on the server, maybe even have a “keep remote mailbox size under xx MB” setting, especially useful for Hotmail accounts. Include licensing for the latest version Outlook for all clients.
2. Profile Management – We’ll call this Roaming Profiles for Dummies. Basically, anytime a new machine is joined to the network, you’ll be given the option of selecting which profiles you want synchronized with this machine. Each user in the household will have their own profile, which will include their settings, favorites, and all of their documents. The documents will be implemented with remote storage. Recently used documents will be available on the local hard disk. Other documents will have to be retrieved on-the-fly from the server.
3. Domain user management & group policy – Ok, you’d have to get the marketing geeks to come up with some home-user friendly names for these functions, but basically it would allow you to set up new profiles, and manage computer use based on group policy. Example: Kid’s can’t login after 8:00PM, No Internet access on Saturday, etc.
4. Simple Backup – I want to leave a blank DVD in the DVD burner, and always have current backups. If I forget to put a DVD in, or if the DVD is full, I’ll be prompted for a new DVD. If I get a new Home Edition Server, I should be able to restore from the DVDs by loading them in reverse order until the system tells me that it is restored. The backups should include all profile data, documents & settings. For interactive restores, let me do point-in-time restores on individual profiles or on specific files. I shouldn’t have to understand the differences between incremental & full backups. It should be easy. Limit the number of clicks, the number of disks required, and walk the user through every step.
5. Remote Backup – This would be a premium subscription service. It would basically take the idea of the backup, and send the files to a server hosted by a commercial company. MSN could run a service, but make the API open, and let other providers get in the game too. You could differentiate on features, and available space. Some providers might offer a simple backup-restore function with a 1-week history and 2GB data space. Others might also allow secure remote access to files & email stored in the profiles.
6. Media Server – Take everything that Media Center does, and include it.
7. Home Automation – Have an option to include a home automation interface.
8. ISA Server, Home Edition – Provide firewall functionality and allow parents to develop specific rules on internet content. Also allows easy sharing of broadband or dialup.
9. Microsoft Update Services – One-click enable of automatic updates for all PC’s that are part of the network. Saves bandwidth and ensures all PC’s are up-to-date.
10. Software Licensing – Offer “Home Edition” licenses of all of your popular software. Price it at about 150% of a single retail license, and allow all of the computers on the home network to access the software. Include games. Include Desktop Operating Systems. Encourage your partners to do this as well. The license will be tied to the Home Edition Server, and any machine that connects should be able to auto-install and use the software. If you remove a computer from the network for more than 30 days, the right to use the software expires. Place a realistic limit on the home edition licenses, perhaps 5 machines. Provide free extenstions for larger families.
11. The Kicker – Make it cost less than $500, hardware, software, everything, $500. Cut corners on RAM, CPU, Video. Make it cheap. Talk to the XBOX hardware guys. Plan to make money on the subscription backup service, and the increased sales that stem from the fact that it’s now easier and less painful to have multiple PC’s in the home.
Could Microsoft pull this off? Would they? Would this make your computing life easier? Comment or trackback with your opinions!
Updated: The Conversation continues…
Updated Again (6/16/2005): Looks like this may actually come to pass. Microsoft Watch’s Mary Jo Foley reports on some comments from Bob Muglia. When asked about the possibility of a server product for the home, he replied: “We are always looking for new opportunities where server technology can be leveraged, and the home definitely represents an exciting new area that we are looking at along with many others. Much of the great storage, replication, and management technology would be great in a home. We have seen many people install Small Business Servers at home, which really works quite well.” Sweet…