I have pretty limited experience with windows server. I kind of managed the network at an office for awhile with about 15 computers. Another colleague put machine in that ran MS Server 2000. Everything was connected via a 25 port hub. He set everything up. The main advantage I saw was that when we hired someone we could administer his credentials for the most part on the server instead of dealing with each computer.
Nowadays I only deal with networks at home. I am considering doing something along the server line. My goals are to 1: have centralized storage for all of the digital media 2: automate backups so we never lose any data, 3: not have to recreate desktops everytime I add or change a computer and 4: perhaps have the foundation to be able to get the movies to one or more tv's in the house.
My first question would be about the benifits of getting a machine that is a "server" per se as opposed to a normal PC. I have an older P4 2.8 gHz PC sitting around doing nothing. The other PC option I will likely have will be use a D915 CPU. That will depend on whether I decide build an I7 based system.
Next would be whether to use server software or Windows 7. I've read the MS marketing stuff about MS Home server. It sounds interesting.
Can ya'all help me out with this or steer me to some info to help me decide?
Your old PC will do the trick as long as you can get some extra storage in there. You could even add a USB drive to the computer for extra data storage.
I'm not sure about MS Home Server. I was reading about it but it seems like it would do the trick. Essentially what you're seeking to do is create a "domain."
In a domain, all the computers attack to the central server. The central server keeps all the user names and can hold the data. From the PCs you can map network drives to the server and share the data among all computers.
I would not use roaming profiles to keep the same desktop. I would recommend using Folder Redirection though which is setup using a Group Policy on standard Windows servers. I'm not sure if the Home version has something similar.
Though, even without keeping the same desktop on each computer, you could share all the data. I'm sure each computer will have different things installed which would make some things on the same desktop not work such as shortcuts or links. I'd just avoid using that. A minor inconvenience in the long run.
Basically you'd have to get your form of server running. Static IP address and join each computer to the server's "domain" name.
On the server you'd run something like DCPROMO (google it to learn more) and you'd have to establish a domain name. (home.local could be the domain name). Thus, all your computers would then be computer.home.local.
To keep it simple, just join the computesr to the domain, make your user names, share out a drive on the server and map all the computers to use that network drive. You could also use Login script within Active Directory. More things to do a search on.