Microsoft yesterday announced that the next generation of its Windows Home Server, codenamed Vail, has now entered the public beta phase. The company was fairly light on details but it did confirm the release includes feature improvements in three areas for consumers: Extending media streaming outside the home or office, multi-PC backup and restore, and a simplified setup and user experience.

The English-only beta is built on Windows Server 2008 R2 64-bit, unlike the previous version which was based on Windows Server 2003 32-bit, and includes a new software development kit (SDK) for anyone who wants to create add-in applications for Vail. The folks over at have already posted their preview of the platform. The new media capabilities have a lot in common with Windows 7, offering transcoding, streaming, and remote playback to other networked machines – all of which is managed through the Windows Home Server web front-end.

To try it out, users must register at Microsoft Connect. The install itself wipes the system clean and the minimum requirements include a 1.4 GHz x64 processor, 1GB RAM, and at least one 160 GB hard drive.