Last week at CES in Las Vegas, Bill Gates announced to-be-released Windows Home Server, and a day later, Steve Jobs showed Apple TV. Both products aim at solving the same issue: how to get media files that are on different devices, hard disks etc. onto one terminal (i.e., the TV). Interestingly enough, the two solutions are vastly different:
- Windows Home Server, which is based on Windows Server 2003, will replicate media files from all computers, XBoxes, and Zunes on the local network onto its hard drive and play them from there so that it won’t matter whether the PCs are running. The machine running Windows Home Server can be operated headlessly (no display) and will be wired (Ethernet). The software will be administered from a separate machine using Windows Home Server Console. Ideally, the devices would be between $400 and $500.
- Apple TV, which will be $299, takes a different approach. Although it features a 40GB hard drive and can be synced to one computer through iTunes (like an iPod), it can stream media files from five computers on the network – wirelessly, using the (non-final) 802.11n standard; i.e. the media files themselves are not replicated. Videos can also be bought through the iTunes Music Store.
Let’s see who has done the user research properly – I personally don’t think consumers want another PC in their homes just to watch their videos, and few people actually need a home server (we got rid of ours years ago). Apple might have done a very good job disguising their newest computer.
Update: There’s a nice article on Ars Technica: more details about Windows Home Server. Author Jeremy Reimer basically asks the same questions:
It’s a neat idea, but how many home users will want to shell out the cost of a separate server for their media files? It’s already possible to use the regular versions of Windows as servers in limited form through Windows File Sharing, and some might balk at dedicating an entire computer for this task alone. Others might argue that it would be cheaper to set up a dedicated server with older components and by installing a free operating system such as Linux. Where Microsoft can overcome these objections is by making the operating system affordable and by making these sorts of “home admin” tasks much easier than they have been before.