Microsoft Unveils Windows Server 2012 Essentials Beta, But Will Anyone Care?

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! 



  1. I know this isn’t entirely kosher, but will 2012 Essentials be available on TechNet? If it is then I might care, otherwise the answer is no. $425 for just a home server is too rich for my blood.

  2. So sad to see the demise of WHS, after so long. To me it was always a NAS on steroids, but the price tag of Server Essentials is just nuts. For the old price, it was a no brainer, cheap and fast to get a server running at home, and alternatives even at a lower price weren’t worth it since they’d take a few hours to tweak compared to WHS.

    I must admit I’m surprised at Microsoft’s move, because after Steve Balmer’s little comment to CRN (or was it ARN?) in Australia that they don’t want to leave any part of Apple’s market uncovered, they’ve suddenly made OS X Server (which you get for $100) even more tempting.

    With AirPlay becoming increasingly popular for streaming music around the house, it was always a small mission to get iTunes running on WHS. OS X Server does it natively, but you have to pay for a Mac. With the Server Essentials surcharge, that Mac Mini as a server suddenly looks like a value proposition.

  3. I’m sure Microsoft’s will be scratching their heads wondering if they can ever launch a new product without destroying community support.

    Microsoft’s marketing department are much like economists: they never look out the window (no pun intended) …

  4. I’ve tried twice to download it… it only gets to about 1.5GB and says the download is complete… but the site says its 4GB and the burnt file wont install… great start!

      1. what size is your image file? again its finished and I only have 2Gb! the site says it supposed to be 4gb?

  5. I think the real question to ask is, do we need a home server anymore? Most services can be delivered from the cloud. Services like Zune & Netflix can stream HD movies to your console or smart TV. Spotify and the upcoming Xbox Music can stream millions of tracks direct to your Xbox, Windows PC or smart TV. There are online backup solutions like crash plan which can take backups of your PC’s. With Windows 8 and file history and quick reset, the traditional backup solutions are becoming legacy. My home server is becoming a glorified NAS box. The only reason I use it is for my backed up blu-ray’s to be streamed to my Media Center
    I plan on selling my home server & MCE hardware when Windows 8 ships. It makes no commercial sense for home users anymore unless you are an enthusiast and want to maintain a server as a hobby. I’m firmly in the MS eco-system, so this is where I see myself in 2013.
    Documents – Skydrive, got 20GB which is more than enough for my important stuff
    Music – Xbox Music
    Movies – Xbox Movies/Netflix
    Photos – Skydrive
    Backups – Windows 8 file history/crash plan for legacy
    Streaming – Xbox vNext/Windows Phone 8/ Microsoft Surface
    The cost of the above setup, no more than what I’m currently paying for Zune and Netflix.

      1. That’s assuming that everyone wants to en masse go that route. Still unproven for most people who still prefer local data control not cloud. Joe consumer will talk with their wallets.

      2. Bandwidth is one thing, the other is availability of services like Netflix outside of the US, which is next to none. And with the latest news about managing digital rights in Germany (where I live now) I do not have much hope for improvement. Apart from that until something like iTunes Match for movies comes along I need a home media server. I am not going to pay second (or sometimes third) time for the same content so I store my ripped DVDs on WHS.

        I also think that the price for the entry level windows server is way too high for most of the WHS enthusiasts. I think I will go with the OS X server on Mac Mini especially that I have a mixed environment at home. The famous Apple hardware tax begins to be easily compensated by even heavier Microsoft software tax.

    1. You mention Netflix which is great but what about the content you own? I want full control over my videos on my watch not someone else’s. The movie studios will be releasing Ultraviolet common file format files later this year for on site and server access (if you support DNLA). Netflix and Spotify are fine if you want to rent but there are many many millions who prefer to purchase and Windows server 2012 will be what I use in the future.

    2. thats fine & all but unless you can afford the high bandwith cap internet services id sugest against using online backup services

  6. Let’s see, $425 and Microsoft’s track record with WHS? Reminds me of a Peanuts cartoon where Charlie Brown was trying to kick the football and Lucy would yank it away at the last second.
    Sorry Mr Gates, but third time’s a charm.

  7. I am totally hung up on $425 replacement for WHS 2011! Why not have a special price to upgrade WHS 2011 to Windows 8 Server Essentials?

  8. Why not $100 or less to upgrade from WHS 2011 to Windows 2012 Server Essentials? After all Microsoft has reduced the upgrade price for Windows 7 to Windows 8 to $40! A silly thought- Apple should develop a Windows 8 metro block that would backup the Windows 8 PC or SURFACE to Mountain Lion Server in Time Machine style.

  9. The sad thing is that Microsoft has a habit of introducing new items that seem like great ideas and then abandoning them a few years in. It does not seem like they put the marketing effort into getting these items off the ground in a way that they can become more main stream. I can think fo at least 4 – 5 products over the list 5 years that they have abandond, and this is just another one. It really makes me wonder if I should be putting more of my consumer support behind another company. I know that I’ll not be making the $425 investment. I did not jump from V1 to 2011 because of the lack of the drive extender support in that product.

  10. Can Server 2012 Esentials be run as a workgroup like WHS or do I need to connect all computers to a domain in my home environment? I’m considering this to replace my aging WHS v1.

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