Microsoft is taking the wraps off “Windows Home Server” today at a trade show. The first details are just coming out from people freed from their nondisclosure agreements. Here’s Microsoft’s first public web site for Home Server. I’m impressed by the feature list – if Microsoft can actually come through with something that reliably delivers on these promises, it will be very interesting indeed.

The idea is to have a box in the closet (literally – no monitor used with the Home Server) on a home network, holding all of your music/photos/videos. It’s accessible in reasonably easy sorts of ways, and has a number of things built in to make sure everything is backed up – not once, but twice. Storage space can be added easily – it automatically absorbs whatever hard drives are added to it, external, internal, whatever.

And as an interesting bonus, it backs up the entire contents of every computer on the network, automatically.

Content can be reached from all the computers as well as accessed over the Internet (some tricky firewall configuration there, I suspect), and also streamed to XBox 360s and other “Media Center Extenders” – a niche in the market that manufacturers have largely ignored up to now because no one cared. If Home Server takes off, there would be lots of devices available to move your media to the living room – a big part of what this is all about.

Apple may also announced a living room media center this week. There’s a lot of ways to stumble in this category – Windows XP has gotten its “Media Center” edition onto millions of computer but almost no one uses the “Media Center” features. Still, somebody is bound to get it right eventually, right?

UPDATE 01/07 1:20pm: There’s an interesting extra tidbit in this Engadget post. If the Home Server is made accessible online, then theoretically it can provide a Remote Desktop connection to all of your home PCs, making them available remotely as well. That’s an exciting possibility but there are some details left out, not the least of which is that the home versions of Windows XP and Vista don’t include the Remote Desktop software necessary for that to work. It’s only included with Windows XP Professional and the business editions of Vista.

Apparently, though, there will be some cool technology that makes it simple for the Home Server to be accessed online through the Windows Live service – it may finesse the firewall issues.

Paul Thurrott has a long review with many more details. This is full of genuinely exciting technology and the developers apparently are working relentlessly to keep it simple. Ooh, this is cool. I’m optimistic!

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