At CES in 2007, Bill Gates announced Windows Home Server. Before the end of that same year, products were on retail shelves. The software was intended to be a solution for home users' problems with multiple PCs. Enterprise features were wrapped in the familiar Windows shell, and customers received easy access to file sharing, automated backups, remote access and print server sharing.
In 2011, Microsoft updated its software package, though it fizzled out along with dedicated home theater PCs. Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 was the next step in the evolution of a product that never really caught on. Indeed, WSS looks great on paper. In practice, though, it leaves much to be desired.
Microsoft is trying to compete with a free operating system and still trying to make a profit. Thecus and its competition have spent time and money developing their own custom Linux-based operating environments, and now they have refined implementations. Thecus' own solution is very efficient, imposes low overhead and is intuitive to use. Furthermore, the Thecus OS lets you transfer files faster than WSS.
Granted, Windows is a piece of cake to navigate for anyone who grew up using it. That's the idea behind sacrificing performance for familiarity. But WSS 2012 R2 is not like Windows 7 or even Windows 8. Users of the desktop OS don't normally set up Active Directory, advanced permissions or most of the features highlighted in WSS. Familiarity gets tossed out the window when Windows users are faced with the complexity of a storage server.
After using both operating systems for years, I think the standard Thecus OS is easier to work with than Microsoft's version. And I'm no seasoned Linux veteran. The last time I installed Linux on a desktop, it took me two weeks just to get everything set up correctly.
Sadly, Thecus bought into the Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials and Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Standard hype. Hopefully, Microsoft kicked back something on the Windows license fees. The company now has nine models listed. All three SOHO/SMB models were revisited within their first six months of availability to address the hungry OS' need for more DRAM.
If you are looking for a low-cost NAS that is easy to work with, offers enough power to run applications and is hassle-free, Thecus' N5550 is a good choice. The Windows equivalent that we tested today costs roughly $150 more, offers fewer resources to run applications and provides a less satisfying user experience.