At last, a bridge between Windows Home Server and Media Center

Ever since Microsoft's innovative Windows Home Server operating system first appeared on the scene a few years ago, prospective users have asked why a Windows Media Center computer can't stream content from a Home Server-based unit. As early as January 2007, popular MSVP Chris Lanier (not a Microsoft employee) posed the question himself publicly, adding, "Microsoft would be crazy to not include access functionality to Media Center Extenders, but I think we all know that Microsoft is good at leaving out features that we all think should be there."

And a forum thread on the Media Center blog The Green Button on the topic of Media Center/Home Server integration, launched in December 2007, is still an active and vibrant discussion.

With this week's release of Power Pack 2 for Home Server, Microsoft is filling a very important gap. Up until recently, the company had been maintaining that the place for users to store videos and multimedia was on their Media Center computers (generally Windows Vista Ultimate-based systems), and the place for their "everyday files" was their Home Server. But the biggest and most cumbersome "everyday files" are multimedia files, including those that deserve to be streamed and accessed by Media Center. While setting up Media Center to include a Home Server folder as one of its "watch folders" is one option for getting files listed, that's not as rich as setting up a streaming connection.

At last, Power Pack 2 should make this possible. As the company's Home Server Team reported on its blog on Monday, "When the Windows Home Server Connector software is installed or updated on a Windows Media Center computer, the next time a user starts Windows Media Center they will be prompted to install the Windows Media Center Connector."

What that means is this: The Home Server Connector is the software that clients in a home network use to access Home Server; while remote accessibility takes place through a Web browser, the Home Server itself lets clients download and install the drivers it needs to do things like automated backups. So with Power Pack 2, after a Vista Ultimate-based system (or quite possibly a Windows 7 beta system) downloads its Connector software from the Home Server, then after running Media Center, the user will be prompted to install a second package that facilitates the Media Center connection.

According to Microsoft's initial Power Pack 2 documentation (DOC available here), "Windows Media Center music, photos, videos, and recorded TV libraries are automatically updated to include the Music, Photos, Videos, and Recorded TV shared folders on your home server... Media Center Extenders that are connected to a computer running Windows Media Center can now access content on your home server without using the guest account."

Home Server users should be able to download Power Pack 2 directly from Microsoft using Windows Update.

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