Why not have email in Windows Home Server?

An often asked question by some of the more advanced users of Windows Home Server has been "Why doesn't it include built in support for hosting my own email on it?"

The are two primary reasons, the most important being the fact that most users simply didn't want it.

Back in 2004 or so when the skunkworks project that eventually became Windows Home Server first was getting rolling, various studies were performed to best understand what users really wanted and expected from a Home Server.

Of those users with broadband internet connections (the target market for Windows Home Server) 86% were already "very satisfied" with their existing email which is pretty significant considering that when you broke down what services respondents were using, about ~50% of those using their provided ISP account, while another ~50% another uses one of the major web mail providers (Hotmail, Gmail, etc). Note that these two groups are not mutually exclusive as there company email and existing vanity domain based email and there still exists plenty of room for overlap.

Back then For those who want email on their own vanity domain one would have to contract with a company for web hosting and get the email included or use a straight email provider, both of which would likely cost them a few bucks per month. If they wanted a more advanced mail server (like Exchange) they would likely pay significantly more.

Now though, with services like Windows Live Admin Center (formerly known as Windows Live Custom Domains)... you can use Hotmail and all of the spam fighting and organizational tools it provides for free as the back-end for your own custom domain, all you have to do is provide the domain name and an MX record... which is a good thing if your home network ever goes down.

Practically speaking... consider this hypothetical case:

Imagine you have a house/apartment fire and on your way out, after making sure the kids and spouse are out the door ahead of you, and that the dog and cat are safe, you stop to grab your Windows Home Server knowing that even if the desktops and laptops go, you'll have all of the files and backups you need... what then?

Even if your home isn't a complete loss, you may not be able to setup your email serving Windows Home Server there again right away due to the possibility of water damage or electrical issues. Where do you run your server in the mean time? The in laws house? The hotel room? Tethered to your cell phone?

These are the kinds of issues that the average data center and/or enterprise has to think about in order to provide a given level of reliability and is not something a Home Server owner, even an advanced one should have to think about to ensure that they can keep sending and receiving email.

This is part of why the Azure Services Platform and related Live Services are so interesting to watch as time goes on as it simplifies so much of the complexity behind having multiple data center class reliability and availability and while there certainly are aspects of a product like Windows Home Server that could take advantage of 'cloud services', it is unlikely that that it will ever be fully replaced by such a platform.

Lets face it, services like Live Mesh is great... but it *only* gives you 5 gigs in the cloud for free. Why be limited to 5 gigs when I can have 5 TB on my Home Server for just a few dollars more and possibly replicate a subset of those files (my most important ones) to the cloud?

Above I said there were two reasons... the second is that there is already a Microsoft server product which is almost as easy to use as Windows Home Server and provides email... it's called Windows Small Business Server 2008 which not only has email through Exchange, but SharePoint, Forefront, SQL Server, WSUS and far far more and is intended those customers and businesses who want the kind of on premises services like email, which as I said is less the case with Windows Home Server users.

Sure SBS 2008, it doesn't do everything Windows Home Server can... sometimes though two boxes/products/services/etc are required instead of one, just as we've seen with Windows Home Server's 10 PC and 10 user limit.