Even though I have been part of the Windows Home Server (a.k.a WHM) beta for a while, those bits I was mostly running in a VM and did not get to installing it on a dedicated box until RC1 came out. It certainly is quite interesting and opens up various possibilities especially in a non-techy family. Also the fact that it is "designed" to be run headless certainly makes it easy and able to hide in a corner/room/garage/cupboard/shed(?)/whatever.
I have this running on an old machine with only a gig of memory and a 80 gb hdd and it certainly has been interesting. Getting it up and running is fairly easy with very minimal questions asked during the installation. Since I only got one disk in that machine I cannot say how the setup behaves if it encounters more than one HDD. It automatically created a system partition and a data partition and forces you into certain best practices (such as strong password). For me the coolest part was the ability to easily share photos, files, music, etc "outside of the house" or in other words someone not on my home network. Since I already have a couple of NAS's running getting to this information on the local network is not new or revolutionary. But the ability to get share this externally and people with Internet access can get to it in a controlled environment is quite cool. The remote GUI (from a user's point of view) is quite easy to use and the remote management of the system is a very interesting implementation – I wish Microsoft would incorporate the same option in the other OS's.
The ability to automatically backup machines is cool (given you have enough disk space) – my 80 gb hdd does not go had on that front. While one of the laptops has been backed up once – again not enough space to get multiple backups on it yet – I really have not tried the whole restore option. Until I have some confidence after trying to restore I know I won't be using this for any data I don't have some way to reproduce.
After installing it and using it one of the most obvious features which is missing (out of the box) is the ability to create and/or publish photo albums – seems like what is the whole point of providing this remote ability to users (family and friends in my case), who cannot even view photographs! Well, fear not – this is where the WHM add-in's kick in. One of the add-in's available is the Website Management Whiist which allows you to manage websites and links on both the public and personal pages of WHM.
If you can to create a photo album then you would also need Bertland Le Roy's simple and sweet photo handler (more details here)which is a simple ASP.Net 2.0 HtpHandler. It honestly is one of those things you slap you head and go "Doh! why din't I think of that"! Once you have both the bits getting the album up and running is very simple and if you want to be spoon fed, then check out Andrew's how to create a photo album in minutes.
Now if you are running this off a machine at home and you do not have a Static IP then you might want to set up a dynamic DNS and if your ISP blocks the usual port 80 and 443 (for http and https), then you might want to work around those.
Also you will get a certificate error if you have signed up for a livenode.com domain from Microsoft and that is because the WHM machine does not trust the certificate. There is a simple solution (for now – seems like MS is working on something after all this is meant for non-geek's) to fix that – though without that it will still work, except will be annoying to the user and might also scare away some of the non-techy family members.
Also quite irritatingly since Microsoft announced the $50K Code2Fame challenge, all WHM add-in's have dried up and people don't seem to be sharing what they are building any more. If in addition to having a more sensible head on your shoulder, you also have time to build some add-ins then check out the dev forum for WHM.
While WHM has gone RTM I don't see any updates bits on connect and it seems like it will not be available to us on MSDN – yet. In any case you will be sure to hear more from me on this as and when I get a chance to play with this.
Some other links: