We cover a lot of home server apps here at How-To Geek, so it can be tough to keep track of everything. That’s why we’ve rounded up a ton of ways to keep your constantly-connected Windows machine working for you.
Server Apps and Streaming
One of the most fun ways to use your computer is as a streaming media server. You can stream music and video between Windows 7 computers on your network, over the Internet with Windows Media Player 12, or to your PlayStation 3. If you need to catch up on your TV shows, Remote Potato will work with Windows 7 Media Center and schedule recordings. You can even control your music from your Android phone without getting out of bed!
You can transcode and stream video using AirVideo for iOS devices, VLC Shares for your Android devices, or Plex Media Server if you have both. Unless you have really old or cheap hardware, you won’t have to worry too much about the performance issues, and if you check out the next section, you can set it up to stream to you even if you’re outside of your network!
If you want to stream your music or podcasts to Android and iOS, you can install and configure Subsonic. The mobile apps have a caching ability so you can store your music on your devices. There’s also a Flash player on the web interface and an Adobe Air app so you can stream from remote computers, too.
While many apps allow you to connect to them via Google Sign-ins and the like, many don’t. For this reason, it’s important to have a setup where it’s easy to access your home network. You can accomplish this pretty easily using our guide to dynamic DNS services. You’ll learn to set up accounts with places like DynDNS.com that are free and give you a quick and easy way of accessing your network with a URL instead of an IP address. Once you’ve got that down, you can learn how to forward ports on your router so you can access specific computers in different ways.
If you want to look into jumping on your home network more securely, you can check out how to configure OpenVPN with DD-WRT on your router. If you want to install DD-WRT to upgrade your router’s capabilities, we’ve got a how-to for that. If DD-WRT seems to be too complicated, you might prefer the equally-powerful Tomato firmware, which also has OpenVPN capabilities.
Windows 7 Media Center and Home Server
If you want to take your Home Premium (or above) installation to the next level, you can configure Media Center to help you record and manage your media. We also have a more comprehensive guide to WMC available to help you take full advantage of watching streaming video, removing commercials, backing up your settings, and getting cover art and metadata for your movies.
On the other hand, you can run Windows Home Server to properly manage your documents and files, get automated backup, and more. You can turn it into a Domain Controller and centrally manage your users, computers, printers, and virtual machines via Active Directory. If you use WHS as a web server and have Internet Information Server working, be sure to check out how to use Perl with IIS and PHP with IIS.
Running WHS doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, though; you can still stream from WHS to Windows Media Player. Lastly, check out our 9 alternatives to WHS’s Drive Extender so you can manage your storage spaces in a smart and elegant way.
Other Server Uses
Windows 7 is a pretty good central hub for your network. You can extend this functionality further by using WordPress, MediaWiki, and other web apps with Windows Web Platform. If you only want to serve web pages temporarily, you run a portable web server from a flash drive, or just install it natively. Finally, if you like having tons of apps available on your Windows machine, but you’re missing proper bash-based command-line access, we’ve got you covered, too.