Windows Home Server, Realities of Beta Testing

My Windows Home Server machine has become such an integral and reliable part of my home network that it is easy to forget that it is not released software.  Early on, I set up some “extra” protection for my data.  All of my irreplaceable data is synchronized to other machines via Microsoft’s Foldershare (although I bumped my head on FolderShare’s arbitrary 10k file limit a couple of times, it was mostly a smooth process.)

Tonight I received a notification email from the Beta program that contained some very important information.  We are all expecting a new build, RC1, to be released soon, and when that happens, anyone who wants to update to the new build is in for some beta-induced pain.  Due to a bug in the CTP code, installation of the RC1 build will not support the “Server Reinstall” mode.  What this means for users is that your data may not be preserved if you blindly click through the installation.  The email states that all data should be backed up to another medium before you dive into the installation.  Reading through the details, it looks like there are circumstances where the data may remain intact, and if you have folder duplication turned on, it looks like the chances are better for preserving the shares. Hopefully testers will heed the warning, and back up all of their data just in case.

Another interesting point is the shutting down of the feedback section on Connect, which totally makes sense given that there has been a lot of duplication of info between the forums and Connect ever since they opened the forums.

For the curious, the full email is below:

Windows Home Server Beta Participants,

We wanted to briefly touch base with you all to help you prepare you for the upcoming Windows Home Server Release Candidate (RC) and also to say, thank you for your help and participation and for helping to make Windows Home Server even better! We have had a fantastic response to our beta program and we truly appreciate all of your efforts in helping us build a better product.

As of 5/23/07, we will be disabling the ability for you to submit feedback via Connect and will begin our transition of feature requests and problem reports to the Windows Home Server Forums. This is a natural evolution of our product development cycle. The forums are a very active community and we encourage you to participate, learn and contribute. You will still be able to query on feedback that Insider

We also wanted you to be aware of changes we made in the RC release that will impact you if you have large amounts of data that you do not have alternate backups of. In the RC the default option for Server Setup is going to be “New Installation.” The effect of this is you will not be able to easily upgrade from Beta 2/CTP to RC or RTM. This is going to be painful for some of you who have large data sets and we apologize up front for that. However, the changes we made were essential to ensuring a great user experience for the product moving forward and as beta testers we are sure you can understand.

For most of you, moving from Beta 2 or the CTP to the RC will involve backing up any data you don’t already have stored somewhere else and then copying it back on after you have “clean” installed the RC. If you have followed our guidance that you have backups of anything you were storing on the Beta or CTP you will have another copy of all of your data somewhere else anyway so the initial step of copying data off of your old installation should involve only recent changes and thus a small amount of data.

Server Recovery (the mechanism used to recover a Windows Home Server when the primary drive has failed and replaced) will be a choice in the setup UI in the RC and RTM. However, using this as a way of “upgrading” from Beta 2 or the CTP to RC is not officially supported. There are significant known issues (e.g. due to a bug in the CTP, using Server Recovery to move to RC or RTM will result in a loss of all Home Computer backups and any non-duplicated shared folders may or may not be preserved). We strongly recommend that you clean-install the RC.

We know this is going to be a painful situation for some of you. We tried to make it clear in our documentation and messaging that you should always have backups of any data you are storing on Windows Home Server during the beta and we also were very clear that while we would try to enable an easy upgrade path we could not promise it. We also know that some of you have very large data sets where having another backup is practically impossible and/or the act of copying such a data set is extremely time consuming (our instrumentation tells us that one of you has over 6.5TB of data!). However, based on beta testing feedback we determined that we had no choice but to make some changes to the system that broke the easy upgrade path. We appreciate your feedback as beta testers and thank you for your understanding and continued support.

At this point we *can* confidently say that we will support upgrading from the RC to the RTM version.

Thanks again for all of your hard efforts and contributions to making the Windows Home Server Product the best product possible.

Kevin Beares

Windows Home Server Community Lead