DIY: Build Your Own Windows Home Server

Windows Home Server will create and format a 20GB system partition on the C:\ drive and then create a second partition for data storage using the balance of the available space on the drive. It will also automatically format any additional drives in your machine; the bigger the drives, the longer this step will take.

You can leave the machine unattended at this point, but if you're using a USB hard drive to install Windows Home Server, you must reconnect that drive while the first internal drive is being formatted -- otherwise, the installation will fail and you'll have to start over. Windows Home Server won't touch the external USB hard drive during the formatting process, but it will find it again when it needs to move to the next step in the installation.

Step 4: Finalize your installation

After the drive(s) have been formatted, the setup process begins in earnest, although you won't have much to do until the operating system automatically restarts (at which point you'll need to access the BIOS again; more on that in a moment).

1. When you see the Windows Home Server setup message, click the Next button.

2. It's important that you monitor the progress of the installation and start tapping the Delete key (or whichever key you use to access the BIOS) when the machine reboots. If you don't access the BIOS and reconfigure it to boot from the internal hard drive, you'll wind up at the beginning of the installation process again when the computer boots from the USB or DVD drive.

3. In the BIOS, change the boot device priority list (as detailed in Step 2: Adjust the boot settings) so that the first boot device is the internal hard drive.

4. While you're still in the BIOS, there's another adjustment to make. Later on, after the entire Windows Home Server installation and setup process is complete, you'll use other computers on your network to access and control the server. This renders its mouse, keyboard and display unnecessary; you'll be able to remove them when you're finished. As we mentioned earlier, you won't need the optical drive, either.

So, to prevent the machine from hanging when it boots without a keyboard or display attached, go back into the BIOS settings, open the Standard CMOS Settings menu and change the Halt On value to "No Errors."

5. When you've made the necessary changes to the BIOS, save your new settings and restart the machine once more.

6. The next step in the installation process will take an hour or so; you can leave the system unattended while it finishes (the computer will restart several times during this process).

7. In the final step of the installation, you'll be asked to type an administrator password that you'll use to access Windows Home Server. Since this will be the gateway to your entire network and every computer connected to it, you should come up with a strong password; Window Home Server requires one that's at least seven characters long and consists of upper- and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. You'll also need a hint that will help you remember the password. When you're finished, click the right-pointing arrow at the bottom of the screen.

8. At the next screen, choose whether or not you want Windows Home Server to automatically download and install updates; we recommend that you turn this feature on. Make your choice and click the right-pointing arrow at the bottom of the screen.

9. In the next screen, indicate whether or not you wish to join Microsoft's Customer Experience Improvement Program. Microsoft claims it doesn't collect any private information using this tool, but sticklers for privacy typically decline this option. You'll be asked to make a similar choice regarding error reporting on the screen that follows.

10. Your Windows Home Server installation is now complete. But you'll need to perform at least one more housekeeping step before you can begin using the server: install the driver for the server's NIC. Copy the appropriate driver to a USB drive and install it from the Windows Home Server desktop. Launch Windows Explorer, locate the installation file and run the executable. You might need to restart the server to complete the driver installation.

11. When you're finished, you can remove the display, keyboard, mouse and external drive, and run the machine as a "headless" server. If you ever install new software or utilities on the server, you'll do so remotely.

Step 5: Install WHS Connector on your PCs

To manage your server from a client PC and to enable automated backups for your PCs, install the Windows Home Server Connector software on every Windows PC on your network. (There is no version of the Connector software for Mac or for Linux machines; they connect to the server using the tools in their own operating system.)

If you purchased a packaged copy of Windows Home Server, you'll find the Connector software on a separate disc. If you downloaded your copy, you'll find it in both the Windows Home Server folder and your server's shared software folder.

1. Copy the entire folder to the client PC, double-click the file "whsconnectorinstall.exe," and follow the instructions.

2. Once you've installed the Connector software on a client PC, you can open the Windows Home Server Console from that machine by double-clicking the Windows Home Server icon in the Windows taskbar.

3. Enter the Windows Home Server Console administrator password that you created previously, and the console will appear, showing the status of each machine that has the Connector software installed and that has access to the server.

Only one person -- whomever you've designated to administer the network (probably you) -- needs to know the WHS Console password.

Step 6: Set up automatic backups

Next, configure Windows Home Server to automatically back up each of the Windows computers on your network. Once you've installed the Connector software on each machine, you can configure all of them from just one PC.

1. Open the Windows Home Server Console, click on Computers & Backup in the top menu bar, right-click on the computer you want to configure and choose Configure Backup from the pop-up menu.

2. When the backup configuration wizard appears, click Next.

3. Windows Home Server will examine the computer and report on the hard drives that it finds. Place a checkmark next to the volumes you'd like backed up and click Next.

4. Windows Home Server will automatically exclude some files (e.g., the contents of the Recycle bin) from the backup. You can add any other files you don't want backed up by clicking the Add button and browsing through the content on your drives. When you're finished, click Next and then Done at the next screen. Repeat this step for each of the computers on your network.

5. If you want to control additional details about how and when backups are performed, click the Settings menu (at the top right of the console menu bar) and then click Backup in the window that appears. From within this menu, you can specify a time window during which backups will be performed, manage how long backups are retained and delete old backups (although Windows Home Server will also manage backups automatically). Close the Settings window when you're finished.

Step 7: Configure users and shared folders

You will also need to establish a user account (with a log-on ID and password) for each person who will connect to the network. You can also create a Guest account, which has no log-on requirement. Only one person at a time may log in as a Guest. If you enable the Guest account, consider restricting it to certain shared folders and limiting even that access to read-only status.

Note: In addition to being limited to serving 10 PCs, Windows Home Server is also limited to 10 user accounts -- 11, including the Guest account.

1. Click on User Accounts in the top Windows Home Server menu to start the User Account Setup wizard.

2. Decide whether or not you want to activate a Guest account. (Again, if you do so, we recommend limiting the Guest account's access.)

3. Click the Set Policy button if you wish to change the user password policy from its default value of medium strength (passwords must have at least five characters, but there are no other restrictions). Click OK when you're finished.

4. To add a user, click the Add button (you'll find it under the primary menu row). Use the same log-on information to create a Windows Home Server account that the person uses to log on to their regular PC; otherwise, they'll have to provide a name and password every time they need to access a file on the server.

5. You'll also need to grant or deny each user remote access (the default choice being to deny it). Granting a user remote access enables them to access shared folders on the server from anywhere they have Internet access, and also to access and remotely control any client PC connected to your Windows Home Server machine -- provided that it's running Windows XP Professional or Windows Vista Business, Enterprise or Ultimate editions.

This feature is not supported by Windows XP Home or by Windows Vista Home Basic or Home Premium editions. You must use a strong password to enable remote access; the privilege cannot be granted to the Guest account.

6. Next, decide which shared folders the user will be able to access on the server. Windows Home Server defaults to granting full read/write access to the user's own shared folder only (which it will create at the end of this step), but you can change this to grant each user full, read-only or no access to any other users' folder and to any shared folders (e.g., Music, Photos, Video) located on the server.

Note that Windows Home Server Power Pack 2 greatly improves the way in which Windows Media Center Extenders connect to the home server. Previously, these devices had to rely on a Windows Home Server guest account; now media in shared folders (e.g., Music, Photos, Video) can be streamed directly from the server to the extender.

7. Click Finish when you've made your choices. Windows Home Server will establish the permissions and create the user's shared folder. Click Done when it has finished.

If you ever decide to change a user's access privileges, click on User Accounts, right-click on the user's name and click on Properties from the pop-out menu. You can change which shared folders the user can access, change the user's password, disable the user's account or remove the user from the system entirely using this same process.

Finally, if you intend to stream media from your Windows Home Server machine, open the Settings menu again and click on Media Sharing in the left-hand column. You can turn sharing on or off for all files stored in the Music, Photos and Videos folders. Be aware that if you enable sharing on these media folders, anyone who has access to your network will be able to access their contents regardless of the individual user-account settings.

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