Google Maps playing catchup with Virtual Earth

Google Maps has released some street-level imagery with Street View. One interesting note is that this feature seems to have sidestepped Google’s typical protracted “Beta” phase. (Seriously, why is Gmail still in Beta?  Did they just forget to edit the logo?) 

The Street View interface is pretty usable and intuitive from a first take, I’d even say quite a bit better than the initial “driving game” style interface seen at

There’s been a bit of confusion about what the imaging vehicles look like with Engadget posting reflected images yesterday, and then later posting images of Immersive’s non-stealth imaging vehicle.

First shot of the van, captured from Google Maps


Immersive’s VW, from Immersive Media Website



Some are arguing that one or the other is incorrect, but the likely case is that the initial imaging was done with unmarked, inconspicuous vehicles and that future imaging will be done with those cute VW Beetles.

This same pattern was seen with Microsoft’s Streetside imaging vehicles (actually run by Facet Technologies)

Stealth Van: (found in a reflected image back in March 2006)



Non-stealth Truck: (spotted on the OH turnpike in June 2005)


Whatever the case, it’s very interesting to see competition in this space.  I’m just waiting for the 3d-city views and this street-level imaging to converge through some marriage of Photosynth-like technology, huge datasets, and lots of processing power.

Microsoft’s Surface Computing Emerges

If you follow the videos that come out of Microsoft Research, Microsoft Surface doesn’t contain too many surprises.  Still it’s a very intriguing concept, and I can see how it really can change the way we interact with information.  For announcements like this, I usually point to the press release, but the text description seems totally dead compared to the actual concept.  Head over to the Microsoft Surface website and watch some videos if you really want to understand what it’s about.

And the developer in me wants to know where the SDK is!  I’ll have to do some digging on MSDN and see if it’s already out there.

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

Lots of Windows Home Server News from WinHEC

Looks like there’s a ton of WHS news trickling out of WinHEC.  New OEMs that were announced include Gateway, Acer, LaCie, and Medion.  It looks like the licensing plans are firming up to include a System Builder option (Like OEM licenses for MCE) but that there will not be a retail SKU.

Lots of Software partner announcements as well.  The most interesting in my opinion is the SageTV integration.  Basically you can pump all your media to your Home Server, including PVR functionality, and use simple extenders to deliver your content anywhere. I’m not sure if SageTV allows for live tv watching, but it’d be awesome to move to a model where the only TV tuners in the home were connected to the Home Server, and all your channels and saved content were available to any TV, PC, or portable device.

Microsoft also announced a coding contest to encourage innovative add-in / add-ons for Windows Home Server.  I’ve seen many Microsoft coding contests get very few entries in the past.  So if you’ve got some spare time on your hands, it might be worth pulling something together to submit.  They have some pretty decent prizes in the mix.

More details can be found in Microsoft’s press release.

PSA, Spring has Sprung, Motorists should watch out for Cyclists

Just read about a very unlucky/lucky occurance where Microsoft’s Josh Ledgard managed to avoid major injury, but crunched a bike and suffered some scrapes and bumps due to the carelessness of a motorist. 

More and more folks are taking advantage of the nice weather by biking to work, and motorists need to remember that we need to share the road properly, and stay alert.  A 150 lb cyclists on a bike is no match for a 3,000 pound car or 5,000+ pound SUV, and Josh is lucky to have come out as well as he did.

If you want to read the harrowing account, head over to Josh’s blog.  And if you live in the Seattle/Redmond area, be on the look out for a dented “older, dark red, Nissan or Honda, with a huge dent in the right front passenger door”, since the driver left the scene of the accident.

New Windows Home Server CTP Build Available

Just got an email from Connect this evening announcing the availability of build 06.00.1371.  From a quick read it looks like it’s going to be possible to upgrade from the Beta 2 build.  There are lots of warnings about making sure that all of your data is backed up, and this is a great opportunity to remind everyone that WHS should NOT be the only place you are keeping your important files.  I use FolderShare to sync all of my important data to a partition on one of my clients (you can exclude this folder from your backup configuration to avoid overly large backups).

I’m downloading the new build now.  Can’t wait to see what has changed (going to go look at the release notes now…)

Windows Home Server SDK is Live

Charlie Kindel posted on the WHS blog announcing the availability of the SDK for Windows Home Server.  I did a quick read through and it looks like they’re allowing you to extend the platform in many different ways.  Pretty much every UI element is extendable: the WHS console, notifications & alerts, etc.  It also looks like you can peek and poke at almost everything WHS does with backups, hard disks & client computers.

We’ll probably see some trivial demos pop up relatively soon, and more complex stuff coming out in the coming months.  I’m real curious to see what scenarios developers will choose to tackle first.

A question for Charlie and the rest of the WHS team:  Are you setting up a gallery or some sort of marketplace for folks to post/share their WHS projects?  I’m thinking something similar to the way the folks have their Gadget Gallery.

Functionality Wishlist for Windows Home Server

In my last post, I talked about how third parties are likely to be the ones to make or break Windows Home Server in the marketplace.  Here’s a few ideas that I’m hoping someone will bring to the table when WHS is released:

  • Family Sharing – Basically, I’d like to select certain folders on the server, and designate them to be replicated to my extended family.  Hopefully they’ll all have Home Server machines as well, and now if I drop some home movies or photos into that bucket, they’d be automatically synced.  Likewise they could add stuff as well.  This can be set up today with Foldershare, but it needs to be simple and available through the WHS console.
  • Security Monitoring and Automation – This is one that I think will probably get addressed at least a couple different ways.  If I’m away from the house, I’d love to be able to remotely access my security system.  Maybe flip a couple lights on/off. Remotely access security cameras.  Turn the thermostat back up so the house isn’t too cold when I return.
  • Offsite backup – I’d like to see this addressed two different ways.  One would be a web-based service where I could pay for a certain amount of space on a monthly basis.  Another way that I think would be awesome is if I could designate a remote WHS machine (maybe at my brother’s house) as my remote backup point.  I could just buy a 500GB USB hard drive, he could plug it in to his machine and designate it for remote backups, or perhaps he could just have an easy way to set a quota for my remote backups, and it would make use of the storage pool that WHS manages.
  • Amazon UnBox or similar clients – Let me browse and buy from the server, either from the remote web interface or the console, and then let me watch the content on any media extenders in my home.  I could schedule the download remotely early in the day, and then it would be ready to watch on whatever TV was free in the evening (assuming it had a media extender attached.)
  • Family Schedule – This is getting into the email/pim realm a bit, and I know that story isn’t fully addressed, but a centralized shared calendar view would be cool.  Let me sync any type of calendar to the Home Server, Live Hotmail, Google Calendar, Outlook, whatever.  Somehow make the calendar viewable on media extenders, or on home PCs in an easy, quick way.

What other unfullfilled needs are out there waiting to be addressed?