First time poster here. I'm a programming engineer in Montreal and I hope to contribute some information back after this, now... to the question.
Me and my wife (another prog engi) are setting up a home server to use to put Boxee box software (IE play movies on our TV) , run SVN or GIT, host terraria, act as a file server and hopefully more. We essentially purchased several inexpensive parts online for about 200 dollars Canadian, motherboard with onboard video (for HDMI output), 4gigs of memory, CPU, power supply and some leftover parts from expired systems we previously had (chasis, keyboards etc)
Due to my schools program I can have windows server 2008 and windows 7 (all versions) for free... I've looked it up but I can't really find what the difference is between windows server 2008 and windows 7 is. Which one would be better for the setup we are trying to create. Does anyone have any references to good articles regarding what each does? (or can simply explain it. That works too) So far I am leaning towards windows server just to add to it my resumé
I'd happily take any recommendations as well for this type of setup.
(also applogies if this isn't in the right section/sub-Section)
Windows 7 has abilities that aren't needed/included with the server edition.
Windows 7 Home Premium has Microsoft Media Center to watch movies, live TV, Radio, MP3 songs and may other media/entertainment tasks.
Windows Server doesn't have that...
Windows Server is optimized for joining and being part of a domain Windows 7 Home Premium cannot join a domain at all... ON THE OTHER HAND Window 7 Pro and Ultimate CAN join a domain.
What you need to realize is that windows server is setup best to share files on a medium to large network and if that is all you will be doing then that might be best. It's not setup to be a home media PC but I'm fairly certian you would not see any speed increaseby using windows server instead of windows 7.
Personally I would use windows 7 ultimate 64bit cause it has other media abilities that you might find useful. If I was you I would connect a cable TV line to the server and set it to record TV shows.
But that is just my opinion...
There are serveral other small differences that I didn't mention but essentially they do work the same so either one can be setup to serve files.
Personally, I wouldn't make my HTPC my file server, but that is because I see no reason to have a loud box with multiple HDDs and fans sitting next to my TV. But, that is besides the point.
Anyways, if you plan on using it in a desktop environment with some server capabilities you'd be better off with Windows 7, which is a desktop OS.
A server OS is tweaked for responsiveness to remote (background) users, where as a desktop OS is tweaked for responsiveness to local (foreground) users. I just read a MSDN blog commenting about users putting in help requests for poor audio quality on their Server 2008 setup. Poor audio quality is not something I'd want in my HTPC, and that is probably only one of the many things you'd have to tweak to make a server OS meet your HTPC needs.
I do indeed want to make an HTPC, but I want it to be more than that. Silence is an issue, but the parts we have purchased are silent (and, I hope, prove to actually be so)
From what I've read here it would seem a regular windows 64 bit would be better since at most 4-5 users will be using it at once. (I plan to use it to back up my school work as well) Also, audio quality will be pretty important since our desire is to watch movies (in our rare moments between taking care of baby or studying like a madman on drugs)
Generally speaking though I don't really use any microsoft media products. VLC (despite their ugly icon) have always worked better for me in the past.
As for Linux, I was debating it's use. I just recently installed Ubuntu on my laptop as a dual boot thanks to WUBI, but since all our systems are microsoft apart from that I was a bit worried about interfacing between systems. Also a little (but not very) worried about interfacing our TV with Linux for HDMI outputs as we've already had some trouble interfacing them with windows (tested it out with my wifes computer before ordering cause mines a lemon with no HDMI )
I hadn't considered NAS before (in fact had not even heard about it) I'll look into it.
A note about silence. HDDs are loud. Even the quietest ones make a racket when watching a quite movie scene. It isn't the HDD spinning, it is the heads moving back and forth making a clacking sound. The best way to reduce HDD sound output is to suspend it in air via stretchy cables or string. I'm considering the upgrade to completely silent, but don't feel like spending the money on a huge heatsink and PicoPSU.
As for a linux server, I just built a file/backup server on an Intel Atom D525 using Ubuntu Server. I might switch to FreeNAS but that is besides the point. It integrates fine in a Windows environment. It is probably a little bit trickier to make sure all the Samba settings are correct than it is to setup a Windows server, but it runs great. You can build your own low powered linux based NAS for significantly less than any commercial solution.
You could use samba too, it is an interoperability suite built specifically to allow Windows to interface with Linux/UNIX. I backup my desktops to a Ubuntu server running samba and it works great. It is pretty easy to setup also. If you already use/like VLC it's available for many operating systems as you can see here http://www.videolan.org/vlc/#download.
If you are worried about interfacing with the TV it would be easy (and free, minus time) to test. Use WUBI on the computer you have HDMI then try it. I had to add a resolution when I did it but that wasn't hard. Information for that is here https://wiki.ubuntu.com/X/Config/Resolution
All that said using Windows would probably work just fine for you also. You would just spend a little more buying the OS. You can setup a homegroup for the fileshare/backup and you can still use VLC for your media if you choose.