Windows Home Server Easing the Job of Family Tech Support

by Alex Kuretz on November 17, 2009 · 8 comments

in Windows Home Server

Let’s start off with a show of hands (or better yet Comments) – How many of you serve as the Tech Support person for your family and friends? A recent Slashdot article opened this topic and asked what people do to make the job easier. The responses varied, and the more popular ones I read included:

  • Restricting users to non-administrative accounts
  • Setting Firefox as default browser instead of Internet Explorer
  • Attempting to educate users with safe internet browsing practices
  • Resigning themselves to re-installing Windows periodically
  • Switching to Mac or Linux

There were over 800 responses to this topic, but in the first 300 or so that I scanned I didn’t see a single mention of Windows Home Server. This surprised me a great deal, as many of the same features I appreciate in my own home also make my Family Tech Support job much easier.

whs

Most recently I set up a MediaSmart Server for my in-laws, because even though they live just a few miles away I still find myself needing to help them with some computer issue a couple of times a month. The Remote Access feature of Windows Home Server allows me to log in and work on either of their PCs via Remote Desktop, where I can troubleshoot printer issues, install software updates, or other similar activities.

RemoteAccess

I’ve also installed my Remote Notification Add-In which allows their Home Server to send me email alerts if the server experiences any issues such as backup failures, disabled anti-virus software, or even a failed hard drive.

RemoteNotification

The Windows Home Server backup and restore solution is significantly easier than the lengthy malware/virus removal and OS re-installations proposed by the Slashdot readers. Best of all the process is automatic, requiring no intervention on the part of my in-laws. It gives me great peace of mind to know that in the event of a virus or drive failure I can restore their PCs back to a running state in just an hour or two.

All these features are valuable to me for the local family members I support, and I would have already set up servers for my remote family on the east and west coasts except for the fact that they are primarily Mac users. I’m now re-considering this idea as being more viable since the 3.0 MediaSmart Server software has been improved for Macs.

Have you set up a Windows Home Server to help family or friends?
What other tools or best practices are you using to make your Family Tech Support job easier?





Article by

I'm Alex Kuretz, and I'm the founder of MediaSmartServer.net. I was the Lead Test and Integration Engineer at HP for the MediaSmart Server until April 2008 when I moved on to other opportunities outside HP. I've kept active in the Windows Home Server community, creating several add-ins and helping users make the most of their Home Servers.


{ 8 comments }

Damian November 17, 2009 at 11:37 am

I have officially been designation as the geek squad of my family. I just recently refurbished a PC and gave it to my inlaws. To help troubleshoot I installed LogMeIn on that PC so I can remote in at any time to troubleshoot. I just finished setting my dad up with the EX495 and once again will be the “IT Administrator”. A combination of WHS and LogMeIn has really made things easier for me to manage my family network.

JohnBick November 18, 2009 at 7:06 pm

I, too, am the official “geek” for two of my three kids. (The other married a computer consultant who is likely more skilled than I!) In the last couple years both have become more independent — now that they (1) stay away from certain sites, (2) installed, update and REGULARLY use AV software, (3) do not open mail from unknown sources and (4) do not let friends use their machines (spouses – yes, me – yes, everyone else, – NO).

As their kids get a bit olderI expect to be back in business — and the MSS will be a key component. (LogMeIn may be a first step.) Once I get involved again I will be comitted!

kocoman November 25, 2009 at 7:11 am

For this:

The Windows Home Server backup and restore solution is significantly easier than the lengthy malware/virus removal and OS re-installations proposed by the Slashdot readers. Best of all the process is automatic.

Do you have a writeup on how to do it?

thanks

Alex Kuretz November 29, 2009 at 2:28 pm

Kocoman, I’m not sure what you’re asking for. The PC restore feature involves simply booting the PC off of an included Restore CD, and then selecting which backup from the server you’d like to restore onto the PC.

Rick Brand January 12, 2010 at 9:09 am

Hi Alex,
I’m writing to request your help on a problem I have every time I open up the Windows Home Server Console. This is the message I get:
“Input string was not in a correct format.
at System.Number.StringToNumber(String str, NumberStyles options, NumberBuffer & number, NumberFormatInfo info, Boolean parseDeximal)
at System.Number.Parse64(StringValue,number Styles Options),NumberFormatInfo numfmt)
at HPConfiguration.InFile.GetLong(StringKey

Alex Kuretz January 12, 2010 at 9:21 am

Hi Rick, troubleshooting issues like this is best handled in the forums, I’ll encourage you to sign up and post there. Also do a search of this site (google search box in top-right area of the site) on “Input string was not in a correct format” as this issue has been encountered numerous times and there a few possible causes and fixes.

Rick Brand January 12, 2010 at 1:33 pm

Thanks for your reply but this is a pretty persistent problem that will not go away. Can you help me please? I have spent the last 2 days trying to resolve this issue because I am not able to update the WHS due to this problem.

Error message is as follows:

“Input string was not in a correct format.
at System.Number.StringToNumber(String str, Number Styles options, NumberBuffer& number, NumberFormatInfo Info, Boolean.parseDecimal) at System.Number.ParseInt64(String value, NumberStyles options, NumberFormatInfo numfmt) at HPConfiguration.IniFile.GettLong(String key Int64 devaultVal) at MediaSmartUpdate.MediaSmartUpdater.GetIniConfig()
at MediaSmartUpdate.MediaSmartUpdater.GetSettingsValues()
at
Microsoft.HomeServer.HomeServerConsoleTab.HPSU.HomeServerSettingsExtender.initialze.Members(IConsoleServicessvc)”

The only thing that I have spotted to be strange is the on the HP Mediasmart updates section, the last updated dated is XX/XX/XXXX and if I try to run the HP update, I’m told the above message and the HP Updates screen is gone.
I wanted to add my new HP Notebook with Windows 7 but I am not able to get the software updated to the Version required 1.3.6.21622 and now I cannot even verifiy any versions because of this problem. Please help or direct me to someone at HP that I can speak with to get this fixed.

Alex Kuretz January 12, 2010 at 2:01 pm

I already advised you of the best way to get support from this site, that is through the forums.

Here is the HP support info for all the MediaSmart Server products, and here are some tips if you decide to call HP support. Those are the only ways to get support from HP that I am aware.

Good luck, and let us know how it turns out.

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