Microsoft today took the wraps off its all new “first-server” operating system, Windows Server 2012 Essentials which is available today in beta. But with Redmond alienating its home and small business server communities with the decision to withdraw Windows Home Server and Windows Small Business Server from the market, the question is how quickly the new platform will take off.

Whilst Microsoft claim to have “evolved” the two cancelled SKUs into the new Essentials product, the $425 server platform is at risk of serving neither community well. Home Server users will be asked to pay eight times the price of Windows Home Server 2011 in order to gain Microsoft’s new Storage Spaces feature on the server.

Meanwhile Small Business Server partners who have supported the platform (and built businesses from it) for over a decade are sharpening pitchforks as Microsoft position the hybrid on-premise/cloud platform as the core offer for small business. That move reduces profit made on the product sale and shifts it into ongoing subscription revenue for email services such as Office 365 amongst others – revenue that partners can access, through selling those services directly to customers.

Will anyone love Windows Server 2012 Essentials?

Had no-one invented Windows Home Sever and Small Business Server previously, we’d perhaps be telling a more positive story – Windows Server Essentials 2012, if you’re happy to pay the entrance fee, has a lot going for it. In today’s announcement on the Windows Server blog, Joe Nalewabau, Group Program Manager on the Windows Server Essentials outlined the features beta testers can check out, including:

  • Storage Spaces. Storage Spaces offers a number of compelling scenarios for first-server environments including easy capacity expansion and resiliency for physical disk failures using commodity disk hardware. The ability to simply add a disk drive and increase capacity has long been a request across from customers and partners and in Essentials 2012 we have integrated Storage Spaces through wizards and alerts to make sure it is simple and easy to use.
  • File History. File History is a new Windows 8 technology that allows you to store changes made to files on your client machine and then easily find and restore previous versions. In Essentials 2012, we have made it simple to configure Windows 8 clients to turn File History on and point the File History folder to the Essentials 2012 server. This is a great experience for Windows 8 clients. This capability is turned on for them and they get the added safely of having their File History stored on the server.
  • Remote Web Access (RWA). RWA is an existing feature that many of our customers love. In Essentials 2012, we made a number of improvements with one of the biggest being making sure that RWA works well on touch first devices including the iPad and Windows 8 based touch devices. RWA also supports media streaming from the server and we have improved the access to files and folders on the server.
  • Native Windows 8 Metro application. We are building a Windows 8 Metro application for accessing Essentials 2012 servers. The existing client LaunchPad will continue to be available for Windows 8, but we wanted to build a Windows 8 native application to allow people to quickly and easily access and control their server. We are very excited about this application as it allows for some very cool scenarios – especially around people who are travelling and need to access files and folders or media from their server. This is our first client application that supports an off-line mode for people who are travelling – another request from customers. In addition, we implemented many of the Windows 8 standard interfaces in this application which allows for a range of new scenarios natively from Windows 8, e.g., simple uploading and searching of files on Essentials 2012.
  • Updated Windows Phone application. We have updated the existing Windows Phone 7 application to work with Essentials 2012 servers – including the ability to access files and folders on the server (this functionality was not available in the previous version).

Home Server users not wishing to upgrade have a range of alternative options available, including sitting on your existing home server solution, moving to Windows 8 for home server usage (check out our new series which has just kicked off) with $40 upgrades available from Microsoft, switching to a NAS device from Synology, QNAP and others plus, as neatly pointed out elsewhere, moving to OS X Server (again, we have guides to using OS X Server in the home here, and our OS X Mountain Lion Server series will kick off in a few weeks time).

Ultimately, the Windows Server 2012 Essentials beta isn’t going to cost you anything, so is worth checking out to see if it’s right for you. In the meantime, I’m sure Microsoft’s will be scratching their heads wondering if they can ever launch a new product without destroying community support.

Image credit: Asoft Blog. Thanks to Tommy for the tip!