At the Consumer Electronics Show, Bill Gates announced the Microsoft Windows Home Server, designed to serve as the digital hub of the modern house. It’s a great idea, and frankly, it’s about time someone addressed this need.

Consider digital photos. My iMac has my camera’s photos. My wife’s Dell has her photos. How do we access the full library of family photos? Either by setting up a temporary file share, or sit at each other’s machine. Suboptimal.

Consider digital music. My iMac has my music. My son’s Mac Mini has his music. My wife’s machine has her music. We all have iPods, and use iTunes. Popular songs are replicated on all three machines, and the maintenance that I do to ensure that all my songs have covers embedded in the MP3 file isn’t reflecting in my family’s library.

Consider data backups. Shared work files. E-mail services. Faxing. There’s nothing on either Windows XP or Mac OS X that helps turn our house into something efficient on a digital basis, beyond support for Internet connection sharing (which we don’t do, since we have a router) and print sharing (which we don’t do, since our printer is directly connected to the LAN).

We’ve long considered setting up a separate machine (probably an iMac) to use as a family server. But frankly, none of the software that it includes would make the job easy. Setting up a centralized instance of iTune, for example, to support all three of us would not practical, since we need to go to that server to update our iPods. We’d also have to leave the machine logged in all the time, which is not good security for a server.

The same thing with backup. It would be nice to buy a single tape drive or external storage device (like a LaCie Big Disk) to backup all three of our machines securely and automatically. But that’s not really possible today, and so we all have our own external hard drives. (I could buy a NAS device and set up three different volumes, but that’s not the point. I can cobble together solutions. The typical family can’t.)

What about Microsoft Windows Home Server? Clearly, it’s too soon to know how good a job it will do. Certainly, my assumption is that it will only support Windows Vista clients, and so it won’t be useful for my multi-platform family. (Microsoft’s video of the announcement wouldn’t play on my Mac, I had to use my wife’s Windows PC to watch it. I’m not surprised.) But it’s a good idea. Frankly, I can’t wait to see it.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick