Practical Technology

for practical people.

Windows Home Server: Unbelievably Bad Storage


Add another hard drive and lose your data. What the heck is this?

Believe it or not, recently I’ve seen several Microsoft products – Windows Server 2008 and Hyper-V virtualization – that I think are winners. But then, just when I think Microsoft might finally be getting its technology act together, it comes up with a complete disaster: Windows Home Server.

I never liked Home Server because I couldn’t see a point to it. There’s really nothing it gave users that they couldn’t already get with any one of the dozens of cheap USB hard drives or NAS (network-attached storage) devices now on the market. If users wanted more, any version of Linux and Samba could turn any old Pentium system into a full-powered file server.

What I never even imagined, though, was that Microsoft would ship a basic file server operating system that was fundamentally flawed. Windows Home Server’s problem, in brief, is that if you have more than one hard drive in, or attached to, your Home Server, it may destroy your data if you use any of nine programs. The list includes Microsoft Office Outlook 2007, Microsoft Office OneNote 2003 and 2007 and Intuit QuickBooks. In other words, exactly the kind of programs you’re likely to use on files on a file server.

How could Microsoft blow this? I mean, come on. Microsoft gets many things wrong—see Vista, Microsoft—but file-serving 101? It managed to get that to work back in 1993 with Windows for Workgroups 3.11 and NT 3.1. Not to mention, everyone else in the operating system business—such as NetWare and Unix—had already mastered getting files to work on a file server years before Microsoft got it right.

On top of that, Home Server, Microsoft told us, is built around Windows Server 2003. I can make Samba run rings around Server 2003 in terms of performance, but Server 2003 is stable. I’ve never lost a file on it.

Now Microsoft is telling us that it doesn’t even really have a clue as to why Home Server is losing files. Oh, in the blog announcing that there really was a problem with Home Server, Microsoft’s Home Servers developers said, “We understand the issue really well at this point—it is at an extremely low level of the operating system and it requires thorough testing to ensure that the fix addresses the issue.” So, they continue, the real fix is “currently estimated for June 2008.”

Say what!? How can there be a low-level problem in Home Server if it’s really based on Server 2003? How, if they know what the problem is, can they say with a straight face that it will take three months to fix that most simple of problems: a file server that corrupts files?

This is beyond bad. This is awful. If I were in charge of this division, I’d fire them all and let unemployment sort them out.

In the meantime, I know there’s been a lot of interest among small and midsize businesses in Home Server. Many users even wanted to know if they could run Home Server with SBS (Small Business Server). Don’t do it!

Do you want your accounts receivables in QuickBooks to vanish? Do you want your Outlook e-mail store to disappear, or those of you who are running SharePoint on Home Server to possibly see all your collaborative work to disappear into a black hole? I don’t think so!

SharePoint? Yes, I know it’s not listed by Microsoft as a problem program for Home Server, but with so many of Microsoft’s own programs on the list, I wouldn’t trust any program’s data on Home Server. Would you?

If you really want an inexpensive server for storage and nothing but storage, just buy a USB hard drive or a cheap NAS box from Netgear, Linksys or SimpleTech. They run Linux and, in my experience, NAS devices from all three of these vendors are as stable as bedrock. If you want more from a server, then just install Linux and Samba on the PC of your choice. It will cost you less and any of these will certainly do a better job of keeping your data safe than the fatally flawed Windows Home Server.

A version of this storyt was first published in eWEEK. >

Leave a Reply