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Microsoft to offer Windows Home Server perks

Aiming to boost the appeal of its Windows Home Server software, Microsoft is offering an update to the operating system that will add both fixes to the existing product as well as add-ons and new features.

Dubbed Power Pack 1, the software makes it easier to choose which files can be accessed remotely, and by whom, and also makes it possible to watch recorded TV programming remotely, essentially letting the Home Server act like a Slingbox of sorts. It also allows the Home Server's contents to be backed up to an external drive.

It's the first significant update to the operating system, which was first announced at last year's Consumer Electronics Show and started showing up on systems last fall.

Until now, the product has been hard to find on retail shelves, but Microsoft product manager Joel Sider said that HP's MediaSmart will be at Circuit City stores this week and is expected to be on Best Buy shelves later in the month.

Forrester Research analyst J.P. Gownder said that the product has exceeded expectations, but noted that those expectations were extremely modest. Microsoft did not release exact sales, but the company's Steven VanRoekel said that it was in the tens of thousands.

Gownder said that Microsoft faces a continued challenge in marketing its home server, although he predicts significant growth in the market over time.

Power Pack 1, which eventually will be added to new systems and be a free download in the spring for existing Windows Home Server owners, also allows those running the 64-bit versions of Vista and Windows XP to connect to a home server.

While use of the 64-bit operating systems are not all that widespread, they are more common among the hardcore enthusiasts that have made up many of the early buyers of Windows Home Server-based products.

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