In an unprecedented move, Microsoft announced today via a blog post that it would be removing its Drive Extender functionality from its next version of Windows Home Server, currently known as codename “Vail.” This has come to a shock to both consumers and Microsoft followers alike. I would have never guessed this move myself, and I think the majority of Microsoft followers felt the same way given the stark reaction that was offered when Microsoft announced this. The news has spread quickly throughout the nets today and rightly so. This is a major feature that Microsoft has unexplainably decided to get rid of.

Drive Extender is one of the more intriguing features found in the current version of Windows Home Server. It allows users to easily upgrade hard drives in their current Home Server without having to go through the trouble of setting them up. WHS can automatically recognize the expanded (or “extended”) storage and auto-adjust, a pleasant and welcome feature for the less-experienced users and even the more-experienced users alike.

This feature didn’t just make it easier to expand storage on a Home Server, but it also allowed users to take advantage of older hard drives that they had laying around. The hard drives didn’t need to meet any specific requirements (i.e., they didn’t need to have the same speed or size), which meant that users could easily mix and swap out hard drives as they chose. Drive Extender also gave users the ability to auto-image the hard drives in order to create a mirror of the different hard drives as a backup (similar to a RAID setup).

Now with Microsoft’s move to not continue improving this feature and simply dropping it all together seems to discourage a lot of users from actually investing in the WHS technologies that Microsoft has been trying to implement over the past few years. The blog post tries to pass off the removal as the technology wasn’t meeting customers’ needs. Although Microsoft doesn’t provide any data to back this up in their blog post that I reference. Microsoft does say it will try to work with it’s hardware partners to come up with an alternative solution that will be beneficial overall to its customers.

Microsoft continues to hold onto its availability date of WHS v2 (or codename Vail) bringing it somewhere in H1 of 2011. Perhaps dropping the Drive Extender functionality was a ploy to ensure that the software would continue to remain on schedule. Microsoft has done this in the past (most notably with Windows Vista), but I cannot seem to think that this would be the main reason, especially with Microsoft’s current successful track record (Windows Phone, Office 2010, Windows 7) of offering products with the promised features within the promised timeframe.

Personally, I’m thinking we may see Drive Extender come back to Home Server. If not in the initial release of “Vail” or in some future update. If not, I think Microsoft will either come up with a better/improved service or have to deal with customer dissatisfaction. I’ve been quite pleased with Microsoft of late, but this, I’m a bit disheartened over. Going by the responses in the blog post, it seems like several people are dissatisfied with Microsoft’s decision to get rid of the Drive Extender functionality. Some even going as far as saying that this decision has further solidified them getting a DROBO, a close competitor to WHS and which offers the similar functionality of Drive Extender. Given this sudden reaction, I cannot imagine that Microsoft doesn’t have something else in the plans that will either replace or improve upon Drive Extender. Either way, Drive Extender will truly be a missed feature of WHS.

Other Microsoft followers who have written about this include Mary Jo Foley and Paul Thurrott. They offer a similar point of view along with how Microsoft may have to handle this situation.