The Windows Home Server Vail Feature List


The much talked about Windows Home Server Code Name “Vail” is the version 2 release of Windows Home Server. It is based on Windows Server 2008 R2 and will only be available as a 64 bit server.  The beta is available for download as of today, April 26th, 2010 at Microsoft Connect. Register at connect with your Live ID and download it today.  Here is a quick rundown of what you will see new or improved in version 2 of Windows Home Server.  Read through to the end for what was left out of this version and a few other shockers.

For additional discussion, installation tips, and help with the Vail beta check the forums.

In episode 87 I talk with Jonas Svensson from the Microsoft Home and Small Business Server Team about the beta. We go over all the new features in Vail.

Remote Access

Remote Access is now based on Silverlight and has a higher degree of extensibility in the software development kit (SDK), allowing for more customization, gadgets, add-in extensions, mobile rendering and an improved shared folder experience with AJAX support.

Remote Streaming

One of the most exciting new features of Windows Home Server Code Name “Vail” is an enhancement to Remote Access that enables remote streaming of your media through the Internet so you can access your multimedia virtually anywhere, anytime you’re online. Now you can watch your family videos or view your birthday photos from outside your home without having to download your content first.

Supported Formats:

MPEG-4, 3GP, H.264, ADTS, AVI, MPEG-2, AAC, MP3, LPCM, MPEG-1. AC3 should be supported in RTM. MPEG2 and AC3 support are not available in this version, but are planned to be supported in the released version.

Supported Extensions:.mp4, .m4a, .mov, .3gp, .3g2, .aac, .avi, .m2t, .m2ts, .mts

Personalize your Remote Access Page

Windows Home Server Code Name “Vail” enables you to customize the default picture, Web site logo and even add links to other Web sites on your home page, so you can personalize the experience that friends and family see when they visit your site.

Connecting to your Media DLNA Streaming and “Play To”

A lot of devices on the US market today are DLNA compatible. DLNA enables your home server to participate in a “Play To” environment as a Digital Media Server. Other DLNA-compatible devices–TVs, stereos, your Xbox 360 (in Windows Media Center Mode) and more—can automatically find your home server from within your home network and then stream videos, music and pictures on demand from it.

HomeGroup Support

HomeGroup is a feature of Windows 7 that simplifies the process of sharing files and printers on a home network. You can print documents from almost anywhere in the house. Adding Windows Home Server Code Name “Vail” to your HomeGroup makes it simple to have a centralized place where you can store all your documents, files, and digital media content. Unlike other computers, the home server is designed to be always on, so you do not have to worry about it being shut off, disconnecting you from its resources.

More Streaming Support

Windows Home Server Code Name “Vail” has a broader range of codec support, giving you the ability to stream a broader range of content than the previous version. If content is not playable to a device, your home server will transcode the video and audio files to different formats and resolutions on the fly to assist in making the content playable. The following codecs are supported: 3GP, AAC, AVCHD, MPEG-4, WMV, and WMA. It also supports most AVI, DivX, MOV, and Xvid files. MPEG2 and AC3 support are not available in this version, but are planned to be supported in the released version.

Backup the Backups

A popularly requested feature for Windows Home Server, being able to create a backup of the client PC backup database, has arrived with Windows Home Server Code Name “Vail.” This allows you to incorporate the backups of your PCs in your server protection strategy, including storing them offsite.

Computer Backup Archiving

If you are replacing an old computer with a new computer and you’d like to keep the old computer’s backups, Windows Home Server Code Name “Vail” provides an archiving feature. When removing the Windows Home Server Connector software from the old PC, you will be asked if you’d like to keep the backups for this computer on the server. Computers that are archived are not part of the 10 computer backup limit.

Drive Extender Enhancements

Windows Home Server Code Name “Vail” Drive Extender is a storage technology that enables you to use internal and/or external hard drives of varying sizes for additional storage on your home server. Drive Extender has been enhanced with many improvements.

Increased Drive Extender Robustness and Control

· Allows you to remove the system drive from the storage pool to help increase the speed of the OS

· Automatically detects and corrects many silent hard drive data errors

· Allows you to remove a drive without server down time

· Offers improved drive health monitoring and alerting

· Makes data for duplicated folders available when a drive is missing without requiring you to remove the missing drive first

· Supports 60GB hard drives or larger, and up to 10 drives can be a part of the server storage pool

Shared Folder Status Updates

Each folder now reflects its own status update from the Shared Folders sub-tab, and now displays its synchronization status as well as alerts, such as duplication failure. Duplication is now completed in real time.

The Dashboard, Launchpad, and Extensibility

The Dashboard, which replaces and enhances the Windows Home Server Console, is the command and control center for Windows Home Server Code Name “Vail.” From the Dashboard, you can perform all the management and maintenance tasks you need to control how your home server behaves on your network, who can access it, what information can be stored and retrieved, how it is organized, protected, streamed, and made available remotely. The Dashboard itself can be accessed remotely by users who have permission.

Like the Console it replaces, the Dashboard is organized around tasks that you may wish to perform, with different activities presented on different tabs. Each tab in the Dashboard contains more properties, giving you better control, while still making changes simple to understand and perform.

Easier Setup

For each home computer you want to fully participate in a Windows Home Server network, you install the Windows Home Server Connector software on it. In earlier versions of Windows Home Server, the Connector software came on a CD. With Windows Home Server Code Name “Vail,” there is now an easy-to-remember link to install the Connector software, http://<servername>/Connect, where <servername> is the name you give your home server. Having a Web-based setup for your home computers means never having to find your CDs.

Easier to Access

The Launchpad, which runs on each client PC in your home network, provides a simple way for everyone in your home who has the appropriate permissions to access your Shared Folders, initiate a backup, connect to your Remote Access page, or open the Dashboard.

System Requirements

· Windows Home Server Code Name “Vail” is a 64-bit only operating system

· You can install the server software either manually or unattended, although in the vast majority of cases it will come pre-installed on OEM hardware

· System requirements:

1.4 GHz x64 processor


At least one 160 GB (or larger) hard drive NTFS is the only supported file system

Supported networking configuration:

  1. Your server computer must be connected to a router via a network cable
  2. The router works best with a UPnP ™ certified device, but it is not required
  3. The router works best in the 192.168.x.x subnet, but it is not required

The following operating systems are supported:

The Windows 7 Operating System

· Windows 7 Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional, Ultimate, Enterprise, (x86 and x64)

· Windows 7 Starter (x86)

The Windows Vista Operating System

· Windows Vista Home Basic and Premium with Service Pack 2 (SP2) (x86 and x64)

· Windows Vista Business, Ultimate, Enterprise with SP2 (x86 and x64)

· Windows Vista Starter with SP2 (x86)

The Windows XP Operating System

· Windows XP Home with Service Pack 3 (SP3)

· Windows XP Professional with SP3

· Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 with SP3


What was left out of this version

If you install the beta connector on a Media Center PC you will be able to load the Windows Home Server Media Center connector just as you have in v1.  What you won’t find is the ability to transcode recorded TV to mobile formats.  You will still be able to transfer your recordings just no transcoding.  Did it really work in the first place?

Perhaps the biggest thing left out of the new version of Windows Home Server is the ability to upgrade from v1 to it.  Since this is a 64 bit only install it would be a bit hard to run the install on a 32 bit system.  It just doesn’t work that way.  It remains to be seen if the OEM’s will pony up an upgrade path for their 32 bit servers but I wouldn’t hold your breath for it.

Are you comfortable with the fact that you can take your v1 pool drives out and mount them in a PC and view the data?  If your system drive failed there is always that route for data recovery.  Well, prepare to get uncomfortable.  In Vail, the pool drives will not be readable outside of a Vail system.

Have you purchased Add-In’s for your v1 rig?  They will not work in a v2 system.  Hopefully your Add-In author will offer some type of upgrade path for your purchase.  Oh, after they recode the entire Add-In to 64 bit.

How to Proceed with Care

This is a beta folks.  Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security from the Windows 7 beta days.  This is different.  Heck, it’s not even a beta, it’s a preview!  If you don’t have extra hardware to test with don’t even think about installing it.  Do not, I repeat, Do NOT, install this as your primary server and don’t trust any data on it.  I’m not saying it’s junk.  It’s just not ready for your precious data.  Test data, yes.  Photos of the family, no.

Are you grabbing a monitor, keyboard, mouse, and the DVD to install it on your HP MediaSmart Server?  (see image below) Oh yeah, that “no monitor” thing is going to make it a bit difficult.  You can do can do an unattended install but it’s not for the faint of heart.  You will see guides released by bloggers on how to do a USB drive or USB key installs.  Proceed with caution and let a few other folks give it a shot first.  The comments will tell you if the method is working or not!

Read through the release notes that come with the download package.  Most of the time you just breeze through the read-me files don’t ya?  You better read this one.  It contains details about known problems and known installation issues.  It could save you some time and headaches.

If you do have spare hardware install the connector on a spare PC as well.  Test the software out and if you find issues look them up on the forums and file a bug on MS Connect.  The more bugs that are filed and fixed the better the final release will be.

Version 1 of Windows Home Server is not looking so bad now is it?  If you are still contemplating a purchase of version 1 server I wouldn’t hesitate in purchasing a system or the software.  In fact, I am betting that you will find many enthusiasts sticking with their tried and true v1 system long after v2 is still clamoring for more Add-In support.

There are a lot of things in Vail that I like too but that will make it into a different post.  The ability to backup a PC and archive that backup while not counting against your 10 allotted users is a cool feature.  More on that in podcast 87.

Install Screen

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5 Responses

  1. ttremeth says:

    Where is media center integration? Server 2008 is basically Windows 7? So surely drivers is not a huge issue? My home-server has digital sound now and the xp drivers work fine in most cases. My media center just plays videos and music and the home server has more than enough grunt to do both as originally it was the pseudo server anyway.

  2. dvn says:

    Nice write up. Yes, someone's going to have to come up with a hack that allows pooled drives to be readable when slaved to another PC. What is this new proprietary DE file format? Here's AnandTech's explanation:

    Regarding the MSS unattended install on an EX495: It was simple enough once I realized that 2 of the blue lights on my EX495 were never going to stop blinking. I then looked for VAILSERVER in my main PC's Windows Explorer. Once it showed up, and I was able to navigate its folder shares, I had no problem setting up the connector software. *For what it's worth, there were about 4 or 5 things listed in Device Manager that weren't properly installed. Nevertheless, I was able to take a look around the system. The EX495 hardware seemed to be zippy enough.