I have an old laptop sitting around and would like to use it as a home media server. I am relatively tech savvy, but have little to no programming experience and no networking experience. I would like to be able to:
Stream media wirelessly to my TV through my Xbox 360, to my other laptop (a Macbook Air), and my wife's laptop (running Windows 7).
Have the server be setup to run headless
If possible, I'd like to be able to remotely access the media from outside of my local network, but that is not at all required.
My hardware is: a Fujitsu Laptop running Windows 7 with a 2.2 GHz Core 2 Duo processor, an external 1TB USB WD HDD, a Netgear N Wireless router, and an Xbox 360. I'm not opposed to using Linux instead of Windows 7, but I'm not exactly adept at using command prompt (although I'm willing to learn).
There's no reason to not continue using Win7. In fact, you can easily install various media servers under Windows (Serviio, Plex, Qcloud, etc.). And Windows Media Player is a DLNA compliant media server too.
The potential problem is that having any server connected over wireless can significantly impact network throughput. If the clients to the media server are also wireless, then your throughput is cut in HALF (and gets worse w/ every additional concurrent wireless client). That's because unlike wire, wireless is both half-duplex and serialized. Only two wireless stations can be communicating at the same time, all other must WAIT. IOW, either the wireless router is talking to the media server, or the wireless client, but never at the same time. And that kills throughput.
That said, depending on how much total wireless bandwidth you have available, combined w/ how much you need to deliver your services to all your wireless clients, it may or may not be a problem.
As far as remote access, it’s no different than any other desktop/laptop. You could use Windows remote desktop and port forwarding on the router, or perhaps LogMeIn Free, TeamViewer, VNC, etc. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Or perhaps install LogMeIn Hamachi and then run any protocols you want over it (RDP, HTTP, VNC, etc.).
If you find you have some “must have” need for a Linux service/app, then simply install Oracle Virtual Box and create a Linux VM (virtual machine). Should work just fine assuming you have sufficient memory to support the VM.
Thanks a lot for your reply! All that info makes sense. For anyone else's SA there's an awesome tutorial that I found at www.havetheknowhow.com to set up an Ubuntu Server based home media server. They also provide a lot of forum help so if you're a noob like I am, it's very useful.