As well as all the media sharing capabilities, Home Server is also notable for its inbuilt backup service. Just as with any commercial backup software Windows Home Server enables you to create incremental backups of your entire computer and schedule them to occur as often as you like. However, unlike more sophisticated software, Home Server doesn't allow you to create multiple backups for one computer or cherry pick individual folders and files for backup. The only choice is to deselect what folders you don't want added to the whole computer backup. Overall the backup service provides just enough functionality to give most people the peace of mind they require, for more advanced users though, it can seem a bit limiting.
As already alluded to, add-ins can be installed to increase the functionality of Home Server so eventually you should be able to run bit torrent clients, iTunes servers, and all manner of things besides. However, as of writing the community is a little haphazard and add-ins can be hard to find or complicated to install. Eventually the better ones should start to float to the surface, though.
The final piece in the Home Server's already impressive puzzle, is its remote access abilities. By signing into a Windows Live account, you can assign your Home Server a simple domain name of the form https://yourname.homeserver.com/, which you can then access from anywhere around the world. Obviously you're limited by the speed of the Internet connection as to what you can usefully use this remote access for but if you have an important document you need to access then the facility's there. A number of wizards will attempt to configure your network for this - using the UPnP protocol - so you shouldn't need to scrabble around the inner workings of your router to get going.
Overall the experience of using Windows Home Server, and in particular the Tranquil T7-HSA version, was a complete joy. The setup couldn't be simpler, options are intuitive and simple, the software integrates seamlessly with Windows Vista, and to have a system be so small and draw so little power makes all this functionality doubly impressive. However, it isn't without its problems.
A general lack of openness to the way things are done feels overly restrictive sometimes - no proper RAID support, only whole computer backups - and the reliance on Windows only software to get most of the functionality out of the box means that Linux and Mac users are left out in the cold somewhat - not that you'd expect Apple to do any better. Also, on the hardware front, the lack of space for at least one additional internal hard drive makes for a less compact setup, if you want to safeguard your data.
One of the big questions is whether a Home Server is better than just a regular NAS box and this is where the divide between the technically minded and the 'plug and play' user comes into play. Normal NAS boxes like the stupendous Netgear ReadyNAS NV+ provide significantly more control over specific parts of the system and the machine can be tailored to your exact needs whereas a Home Server will not give you the performance or functionality but getting the thing going needs much less attention. Ultimately, which type of user you are is something only you can decide.
In terms of cost, the unit we're looking at today seems a little expensive, especially when compared to the projected price of the HP MediaSmart Server. With space for four hard drives and additional software already loaded onto it, the HP model is more versatile and functional straight out of the box. However, the Tranquil T7-HSA is a more elegant chassis that, if you don't need the extra storage, is more compact and of course fanless. Also, until we've reviewed HP's alternative, we can't say for sure if it will hold up to its hype.
Microsoft Home Server has finally arrived and it looks set to be a big success. It may not have the more sophisticated functionality of thoroughbred NAS boxes, but getting simple network shares and system backups organised is simple and intuitive and for most people that's all they want. Moreover, once the add-in community starts to ramp up it's output, more and more functionality will be at your disposal.
As for the tranquil T7-HSA, it is a very solidly built piece of kit that has a quality feel to accompany its simple compact design. The lack of fans means it's near silent and its low power usage will be appreciated by everyone, it's just a shame there's room for only one hard drive inside.