As I’ve discussed in this series before, Microsoft designed Windows Home Server (WHS) for the average home user. You can log on to the server via Remote Desktop if you’re careful, but most users will probably use the WHS Console, a special application that WHS adds to every PC to which you’ve installed the WHS Client.
Such basic functionality is great for novice users, but the WHS Console can leave experienced administrators feeling as if they’re working in a box. Many of the familiar tools and features that they’re used to are nowhere to be found. Microsoft must have given some thought to this problem because the company released a software development kit (SDK) for the WHS Console that lets programmers add extra functionality to the console. You can find quite a few add-ins at the “We Got Served” Web site.
Installing an add-in is simple. Simply copy the add-in (it should have a .MSI extension) to your WHS server’s \Add-Ins folder (\\whsserver\Software\Add-Ins). Then, log on to the WHS Console and choose Settings in the upper-right corner. Click Add-ins in the left panel.
To help you get started, I’ll now share my five favorite WHS add-ins.
5) Event Viewer Add-in, by Benjamin Robichaud—I really like the fact that WHS is a “hands off” app. After all, I’m an IT professional by day, and at night I don’t always want to spend a lot of time administering my home server. However, there are times when I want to be proactive and review what my machines have been up to. Benjamin’s Event Viewer Add-in is a great, simple tool that addresses my needs. I can view any of the usual Windows event logs, in addition to the new HomeServer log. I can easily filter these logs to show only errors or warnings.
4) Remote Notification, by Alex Kuretz—An even easier way to be proactive is to have the server notify you when an error or warning is thrown in the event log. Kuretz wrote a simple interface from which you can configure either text messages to your mobile phone or SMTP email messages to your Inbox. As an added touch, to help you set it up, Kuretz even lists the text-message addresses of eight of the most popular mobile-phone carriers.
3) Duplication Info, by Yotsuba—The purpose of this add-in wasn’t clear to me until I started researching the data-corruption problem that I discussed in last month’s column. In short, WHS can protect your important data by literally copying it to another hard disk. Unfortunately, finding out where your data is located isn’t exactly easy (even if you log on to the server via Remote Desktop). Yotsuba’s add-in shows you exactly which hard drive contains your data. Why is this functionality useful? Personally, I feel better knowing for sure that my data really is in two locations.
2) WHS Disk Management, by Sam Wood—Like the Duplication Info add-in, this add-in goes into the category of “providing more information.” It isn’t necessarily essential to WHS’s everyday use, but this add-in tells you how much free space is available on each hard disk. It also has a customizable “server” graphic that displays all the hard disks in your WHS system.
1) Advanced Admin Console, by Andreas M—I don’t personally know Andreas, but I suspect that he has an administration background. His add-in takes almost all of Remote Desktop’s functionality and places it into the WHS Console. After you install the add-in, you’ll find links Control Panel, Administrative Tools, Start Menu, My Computer, My Network Places, Workgroup, Network Connections, Command Prompt, Power Shell, Task Manager, and the Registry Editor. If those aren’t enough, you can even add in your own shortcuts to the tools that you need. Be sure to use caution, though: Just as you can quickly deep-six your WHS server via Remote Desktop, this particular add-in can be just as dangerous.
If you’re interested in writing your own add-ins, check out Brendan Grant’s Web site, where you’ll find tips on writing add-ins, as well as a few that Brendan has created. Do you want to share an add-in that you’ve written? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me about it!
Until next month, have fun with WHS!