Windows Server, Home Edition

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…

Scoble is interviewed on G’Day World

The guys over at G’Day world land an interview with Robert Scoble.

The first time I listened to G’Day World, I kept thinking that it sounded like a bunch of Americans doing bad Australian accents. I had to keep reminding myself that they really are from Australia.

Once I got over my mental block with the accents, I found that they seem to land some great interviews. They mix in-depth business and technology discussions with a reasonable dose of humor and commentary.

Cameron Reilly and Mick Stanic have pulled together another great podcast with the Scobleizer.

Maybe Blogging is “Public Speaking”

My previous post generated a fair amount of interest, so I thought I’d follow up with some more thoughts on the nature of blogging.

Blogging is not conversation. As I said in my previous post, the permanence and the public nature of blogging places realistic inhibitions on bloggers. While you can have intelligent discourse, on blogs, it is not conversation.

Blogging is not email. I’ve recently read and heard many references about how RSS is the evolution of email, or that it might replace email. RSS is good for several things that people have used email for in the past(distribution lists, product information, news, etc.) but it is not an evolution of email, it’s just using a new tool that performs a function better than an old tool.

Blogging is Public Speaking. Take pretty much any advice you have ever heard about speaking in front of large audiences, about giving presentations, and it should apply to the way you blog. You can frame your presentation using Audience & Objectives. You should keep in mind the biases of your audience, their existing knowledge, and their motivation for listening to you. The big difference is that your intended audience may differ greatly from your true audience. Everyone on the internet from now and into the future is a potential audience member, so you need to consider your audience very carefully.


I left out any references to “journalism” in my original post, but given the recent focus on Citizen Journalism by bloggers like Robert Scoble I thought that maybe I should address this omission. Blogging is not journalism. Journalism is not a method of communication, but rather a type of message. You can use blogs as a tool for journalism, just like you can use them as a tool for humor, marketing, political influence, family communication, etc. The list goes on and on. The confusion arises when people start mixing up the message with the medium. Blogging is a unique medium that enables many types of communication. Journalism is one that it seems to be handling quite well, but pigeon-holing blogs-as-journalism, or blogs-as-marketing can confuse people who are trying to figure out what blogging is. Blogging is a tool, a medium. The message is up to you.

RSS Search Results from MSN Search Beta

I’ve only had a few minutes to look at this, but it appears that you can obtain search results from the MSN Search Beta, simply by adding “&format=rss” to the end of the url. I read about this first on SearchEngineWatch.

The first thing I did was create an ego-feed on the name of my blog (“Blobservations”) and one of the returned links was from, specifically, this post. The interesting point is that the MSN Search Beta found this, but my Technorati search for inbound links didn’t pick this up. Now I know that this has to do with blog pings, and that Technorati probably would have picked it up if it had been properly notified. The point is that MSN search found it on it’s own, for a post that is roughly 37 hours old. That’s cool!

It’ll be interesting to see exactly how quickly it can find new blog content. I’ve got some MSN Search Beta “Feeds” in my blogroll now, so I’ll post more as I get a better feel for the performance.

My short trial with the SMT5600

I recently purchased an Audiovox SMT5600 from AT&T Wireless. My experiences with the device were short, and range from sweet to bitter.

First, I love the phone. From a geek-centric perspective, it had tons of features that I would love to have with me all the time. Contacts synced with Outlook, internet access, and the photo/video camera. All of these features wrapped into a tiny package make this phone an awesome integrated device.

On the down-side, AT&T/Cingular coverage in my hometown isn’t up to par. With my Verizon phone, I can pretty much make calls from everywhere I go. I live in a fairly rural area, and the while AT&T has made some decent improvements in recent years, the coverage is still a little sparse.

When I had decent signals (3 bars or more) the phone worked great. When I had only one bar, or no bars, the phone performed miserably. While this is what I would expect, the phone didn’t seem to handle the weak-signal condition gracefully. I would dial, and it would sit there trying to connect for 30 seconds or so. Sometimes it would give up with a short double-beep. Sometimes it would show what looked like the end-of-call screen with a duration of 00:00. It was probably dutifully reporting what was actually happening, but from a user-experience perspective, it undermined my confidence in the device. Later in the evening, my wife tried to make several calls with the phone while we were running some errands. She’s used to our Verizon coverage, and she instinctively blamed the poor performance on the phone. I tried to explain why the phone is really cool, and how it’s really the network that is causing the problems, but in reality, neither the phone, nor the network are any good without the support of the other.

Some other random thoughts:

* My experiences with PocketPCs made me like this phone less. There were many occasions where I found myself longing for the stylus, or for some way to enter text without having to wrap my brain around T9 or multi-tap. The interface was familiar enough that I just felt that I should be able to use this device like a PocketPC.

* It’s hard to convince yourself that the microphone actually works when it’s so far away from your mouth. After several years with clamshell style phones, this is a tough mental block to overcome.

* The built-in storage is way too small. Vendors should consider throwing in a complimentary MiniSD card, at least 32MB, Maybe 64. Maybe SanDisk or someone would be willing to provide them cheap or free, just for the exposure. Preload the MiniSD with some free or trial software for the SmartPhone. Software vendors might even be willing to pay for the placement.

Well, the phone is getting shipped back as soon as I receive the return label from customer service. We’re back to using our trusty Motorola T720 on the Verizon network.

Bill Gates Talks about Blogging

In the middle of this interview by Michael Kanellos, Bill Gates makes some interesting comments about blogging, focusing on adoption, attrition, and his own blogging ambitions.

From the interview:

“I’ve toyed with doing one myself, but I don’t want to be one of those people who start and then don’t finish it, and again I’m thinking maybe I could do one a month or one every six weeks–something like that. I’d kind of like to, but I’ve got to be sure I can keep going for at least a year to make it worth doing.” — Bill Gates

Microsoft’s Lori Pierce, No longer running as admin

Lori Pierce has a good post with some links about how she’s no longer running as admin.

While this post points to some great resources, the fact that you need “resources” to make this work shows that all of us developers (not just the folks at MSFT) need to do more work.

Most end users don’t have the knowledge or patience to get things working properly with unprivileged accounts. Even if they did, the next time they tried and failed to install some new software, they’d revert to their old ways.

Unfortunately, it’s going to take some radical changes to make this the norm for home users. I think ideally, you could have a hardware switch on the side of your PC. Try to install some software without the switch in “admin mode” and it would advise you to switch to admin mode. Try to browse the internet with the switch in admin mode, and it would warn you with annoying popup boxes every 30 seconds that you’re running in admin mode. Maybe even put the switch on the keyboard. The hardware and software would have to cooperate, the OS would have to have a good hold on the hardware so that it couldn’t be spoofed by a virus. Maybe we could just reuse that CTRL-ALT-DEL interrupt.

Its a complicated solution, but people like being able to change the configuration of thier PCs, add software, try new things. That means installing software, drivers, etc. We just need some way to make sure that the user is the only one with the power to make these changes, and we need to make it easy.