Microsoft's secretive Windows Home Server (WHS) project--codenamed "Q" and first revealed on the SuperSite for Windows back in 2005 but not publicly unveiled until January 2007--this week moved into the external beta testing phase. This means that testers outside of Microsoft will, for the first time, get access to pre-release versions of the product. According to Microsoft product manager Todd Headrick, Microsoft shipped the Beta 2 release of WHS recently and will finalize the product later this year.

"Beta 2 does not really represent the 'consumer experience,'" Headrick wrote in the Windows Home Server blog yesterday. "Most consumers will ultimately buy Home Server as an integrated hardware/software solution that's very plug and play. Beta 2 is software only, of course, meaning evaluators will need to know how to install and configure a server operating system."

Headrick confirmed in a December 2006 briefing that WHS would be made available in two versions: A software-only version for enthusiasts, and pre-bundled with server hardware. The software-only version requires a dedicated Pentium 4-based PC (or higher) with 512 MB or more of RAM, at least 2 client PCs, and a broadband connection.

Sadly, WHS Beta 2 is invite-only. However, Microsoft has posted a registration page so that interested parties can get their name in and be considered for future beta releases. Previous to Beta 2, over 1000 Microsoft employees were testing the product internally. The company hasn't specified how many individuals are currently testing Beta 2.

For more information about WHS, please see my preview on the SuperSite for Windows.

Windows Home Server Beta Registration (Microsoft)