In a surprise development, Microsoft revealed late last week that it would be adding native support for Windows 7 to its Windows Home Server (WHS) software in time for the general availability of Windows 7. Previously, the software giant claimed that it wouldn't be taking such a step, opting instead to add such support in the next major version of WHS, sometime in 2010.

As is so common these days, the announcement came via a Microsoft corporate blog, and not through official press channels, and it wasn't preceded by press briefings of any kind. Also unusual is the speed to market: The Windows 7 updates will be delivered by a Power Pack 3 (PP3) update to WHS that will ship in about three months. Previous Power Packs required almost a year of development.

WHS PP3 will add the following Windows 7-specific features to WHS:

Windows 7 Libraries support. With PP3 installed, WHS will add its shared Music, Photos, and Videos folders to the Windows 7 Music, Pictures, and Videos shares (respectively). This change will let media applications such as Windows Media Player (WMP) and Windows Media Center discover server-based content automatically.

Windows 7 Backup and Recovery support. Because WHS includes superior, image-based backup capabilities, those capabilities should be used instead of Windows 7's native backup and recovery tools. With PP3 installed, WHS will suppress Windows 7 notifications to enable Windows 7's backup and recovery functionality.

Windows Search integration. PP3 includes Windows Search 4.0, which improves server-based searches performed from Windows 7-based PCs.

Netbook support. PP3 modifies the WHS administrative console so that it will display correctly on the 1024 x 600 screens common on netbook computers.

Windows Media Center enhancements. PP3 includes Windows Media Center Connector software, improving the experience of accessing server-based media content from WHS. The PP3 version of this software adds TV archiving support, so you can move recorded TV content from the PC to the server, then re-encode it so that it will work properly on portable devices or in its original resolution. There's also a Console Quick View add-on for Windows Media Center that lets you view certain WHS configuration items from the Windows Media Center software.

As with previous Power Packs, PP3 will be a free update for existing WHS users. The final version will be delivered via Windows Update, but if you're interested in testing it early, you can apply for the beta on Microsoft Connect.