"Consumer grade" add-ins

The Windows Home Server team is ecstatic about the number of add-ins that have been developed for Windows Home Server over the past year.   Check out the WeGotServed blog that has a more comprehensive list of all of the add-ins that are available for Windows Home Server.

In reviewing a lot of the add-ins, I noticed that the majority of them are targeted at "enthusiasts" that want the Windows Home Server Console to have more "knobs and buttons".    Windows Home Server is a consumer product targeting broadband connected households with more than 1 home computer.  I am surprised that more developers have not built Add-ins that provide mass-market solutions to families and home-based businesses using a home server.

  • Where is the web camera add-in?

  • Where is the shared contact management solution for home-based businesses?

  • Where is the photo sharing web site with a built-in slideshow capability?

Terry Walsh did a post on "How To: Run a Live Webcam on Windows Home Server" back in October.  It is a great post for "enthusiasts", but I wouldn't call the steps outlined in the post as a "Consumer grade" solution.

The Windows Home Server team published a set of Developer Guidelines a while back on our MSDN site.  Anybody thinking about building an add-in (or who has already built an add-in) should take the time to read this document.  The document provides a set of design decisions, I will call out 3 specific items:

  • Software solutions should work without additional configuration

    • Try not to add "knobs and buttons" for the sake of adding lots of options

  • The console is not a general-purpose desktop

    • The Windows Home Server Console is designed to be an infrequently used application for initial configuration and setup of your home server.  Applications that require intensive interaction or use by non-administrators should have a user interface, either as an application that runs on a home computer or as a Web application that is accessible through a browser from a home computer.

  • Software must be installed through the Add-in page in Windows Home Server settings

    • Consumers should not need to learn how to Remote Desktop into their home server to install new software.  Any software that requires a Remote Desktop connection is not "Consumer grade"

What Add-ins do you think are truly "Consumer grade"?


Comments (8)

  1. Anonymous says:

    stodge is right, WHS is far from being a "Consumer product" – well it is somehow, but definitely for the experienced power-home-user who already had some kind of server in his network before. I don’t have the impression that WHS has been designed to be a product for the masses, it’s far too complicated, has too few features built-in and needs _a_lot_ of workarounds to be implemented in a home network.

    But consequently, it does provide the flexibility to be custmized in almost any way, and this is what makes it a perfect flexible and cheap choice for the enthusiast. This is why no one is missing these simple "photo-sharing-addins" – users of WHS set up a web-application in a few minutes if they really need this. And they install their well-known tools via RDP to make the webcam work, there’s absolutely no need to reinvent the wheel and write new tools specially for WHS.

    If Microsoft really planned this to be a consumer product, they’ve definitely made some severe design errors…

  2. Anonymous says:

    Pressed enter to soon. :-/

    I personally find autoexit (http://forum.wegotserved.co.uk/index.php?autocom=downloads&showfile=6) very nice as consumer addin.

    It installs easily, clean UI, you don’t need to configure anything to start using it.

    The only point that is less ‘consumer oriented’ is that you need to install a client on a client machine for all the options to work.

    But on the other side, in version 1 the manual client setup was hard, now with the new R2 version it is just running an installer.


  3. Anonymous says:

    In my view it is not just the add-ins that are designed for enthusiasts – it’s the product as well, and it needs to evolve before it can be considered a true consumer product. The test I always use is: could my parents set it up and use it? The answer at present is: no.

    They would ask:

    1) Why is it so difficult to integrate with Media Player?

    2) Why won’t the videos stream to my XBOX360? Note here: my parents would glaze over if you started talking about CODECS.

    3) Why are My Documents not the same on each PC in the house? Isn’t the point that all my documents are in one place? Another note: my parents would glaze over if you started talking about SyncToy or Live Mesh.

    4) What’s this cloud thing? I want the Windows Home server to be the cloud in my house!

    5) Why can’t Home Server store my emails so I can ready from any PC? I might as well just use WebMail?

    6) Why isn’t there integrated contacts sharing? This is such a core feature for s home family server it shouldn’t be left as an add-in.

    I’m sure that version 2 will improve on this and Windows Home Server will become a true consumer product. After that, perhaps developers will start to produce consumer targeted add-ins.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Recorded TV Manager Add-in for Windows Home Server is designed specifically for Home Server networks that include one or more Windows Media Center machines which record television programming for later viewing ("time shifting").

  5. Anonymous says:

    In my opinion, without an integrated WHS Apps Store, none of the Add-Ins are consumer grade.  They are difficult to find, complicated to install (too many steps), and nearly impossible to keep up to date. Subscribing to blogs and forum posts shouldn’t be required to identify product updates.

    What I’d like to see is a Add-Ins Store page in the WHS control panel that linkes to a MS-sponsored site containing all Add-Ins.  It would allow browsing of add-ins, installation, and automatic update notification.

    As it stands now, add-ins are just too complicated and inaccessible for consumers, and required too much time and effort for enthusiasts.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Somre really good ideas up above, some I haven’t thought of but I read them and say "YES!!! Why is that NOT in here?"

    I have two things I wanted to say:

    (1) I want to re-emphasize the problems with connecting to an Xbox; this is utter failure in my mind. I have things worked around, but to expect anyone else to do this is impractacal.

    (2) I think that webguide is "on the right track". I think that with some significant improvements, this could be a "killer app".

    And by significant, I really mean really bring out the BIG ideas! ie make the photo sharing as good (or better) than any online service; make the video sharing service as good (or better) than stinking YouTube; and make the music service as useful (or better) as the FireFly (iTunes) workaround.

    And of course, make the setup seamless and integrated. Do that, and I think you could make a lot of people instantly envious (in my opinion). This is probably the ONLY add-in I would consider paying money for btw.

  7. Anonymous says:

    And where is the integrated Calendaring for families?

    Where is the time machine quota management?

    But really what a lot of folks want (and would address the above streaming issues if based on the win7 code) is MCE integrated with home server so MS can own the dam garage on we can have centralized data I/O.

    ‘Enthusiasts’ have been bending over backwards to get MCE to work or running other folks software to surplant it, why not step up?

    What is the future of Home server as it relates to the windows 7 code base?


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