Microsoft normally rolls out larger product updates as Service Packs, however Windows Home Server utilizes a methodology called Power Packs to deliver new product features in addition to the bug fixes. With Power Pack 1, the Home Server Team delivered the fix to the Drive Extender corruption bug, support for 64-bit Vista, and the ability to backup Shared Folders to an external hard drive for off-site storage.
Today Microsoft has announced the release of Power Pack 2 for Windows Home Server (code named Snoqualmie), delivering a handful of fixes and new features that provide a relatively small but worthwhile improvement to the Windows Home Server experience. In addition to bug fixes, these changes include enhancements for remote access configuration, new features for computers running Windows Media Center including content streaming support for Windows Media Center Extenders, and the addition of Italian language support.
The best news is that all of this will be available March 24th (tomorrow!) as an automatic update, so make sure you’ve got your server configured to pick up updates automatically. Note that you will need to have Power Pack 1 installed prior to your server updating to Power Pack 2.
Now that we’ve got the overview covered, let’s take a closer look at the changes included in Power Pack 2. If you’re anxious to review the Power Pack 2 release notes, they can be viewed here.
The Remote Access feature of Windows Home Server is one that can be very useful, for users that want to access home resources from outside the home, such as from work or while traveling. As part of the configuration process, the current Remote Access Configuration Wizard would often present the user with confusing Warning messages about verification steps failing.
In Power Pack 2, the Remote Access page has been designed to make it easier to use, with new and improved initial configuration and repair wizards as well as better troubleshooting guidance for common home networking issues that can cause Remote Access to not work properly.
Microsoft has also added a Web-hosted diagnostic service to more accurately test if remote connectivity is available from outside the home network. I’m particularly hopeful that this last bit will resolve most of “Verifying failed” messages we see so often in the forums that are most often attributed to being unable to correctly assess remote availability from within the home network.
Media Sharing and Windows Media Center
Centralizing the storage of media in your home network and then accessing it wherever and however you want to is one of the more popular uses of the Home Server, and has generated a lot of discussion in the MediaSmartServer.net forums. We’ve seen hacks to enable storing or recording of live TV from Vista Media Center to Windows Home Server, some users have mapped the Windows Home Server shares to their Media Center library, and many users do some form of streaming of content from their server to a digital media receiver or Extender.
Power Pack 2 delivers a new Windows Media Center Connector feature to enable Windows Media Center computers to automatically have access to content stored in shared folders on the home server, with the Music, Photos, Videos, and Recorded TV folders enabled by default. This allows Windows Media Center Extenders to access and stream multimedia content stored on the home server, with access permission granted on an individual folder basis. You’ll also be able to access the Recorded TV content stored on the server from your Windows Media Center computer and Extenders, though moving the Recorded TV files is still a step that must be performed manually by the user by copying or moving the files to the Recorded TV share on the server.
Windows Home Server now also supports streaming MP4 files to the Xbox 360 and other devices that support the MP4 format. Metadata such as title, artist, composer, album, and genre appears in the music or video library.
There are also several bug fixes included in Power Pack 2 that should please many users. One of the most important from my point of view is new functionality that is designed to help prevent issues of Single File Restore failing at 79% or 81%.
While Power Pack 2 does not deliver any revolutionary new features, it does provide some welcome improvements to the Remote Access configuration and backup software of Windows Home Server, as well as taking a nice incremental step towards better and more easily centralizing media storage and distribution within the home.
Be sure to check out the new features and bug fixes included in Power Pack 2, and share your impressions and feedback either here in the comments or in this forum thread.