Want to get even more out of your server? Nathan Taylor looks at 10 apps that make your home server go above and beyond.
So you've set up some file and print sharing on your home server. Media services, too, to get your Xbox and PlayStation in on the act. But now you're looking to have your box do more. Below, we've listed 10 apps that you should think about installing on your server as well. These include automatic downloaders, unique media services, a game server and even a full web OS. And if that's not enough, check out our guide to using uTorrent remote on page 46 as well as our guide to setting up your server as a camera security hub on page 48.
There are a number of solutions for streaming media to generic DLNA devices, but so very few that work well with mobile devices like phones and tablets. Plex Media Server is a rare exception. It's a media server with strong library features and it works very smoothly with the excellent Plex clients for PC, Mac, Android and iOS (the last two are available on the Google Play or Apple App Store for a small charge; the server and PC client is free). Plex shares a lot of DNA with the awesome XBMC. It was originally a Mac-based offshoot of that project, but evolved into a multi-platform project all of its own. If you want a turnkey solution for streaming your media collection to mobiles and PCs — and you're happy to use the Plex clients rather than a third-party solution — it's definitely worth downloading. Thanks to the myPlex service, it can also stream your media library to remote clients, including family members anywhere in the world.
Icecast lets you effectively set up your own net radio channel, either for public or private consumption. It streams audio from your server to those who wish to listen — it can either be based on a live stream from your sound card or from a programmed MP3, AAC or OGG playlist. You can listen to a cast using Nullsoft's Winamp or through a variety of other SHOUTcast clients.
MLDonkey is a peer-to-peer network downloader with a twist: it operates in an entirely client-server mode. There are definite benefits to having a server-based peer-to-peer application, notably the ability to queue downloads from anywhere, even a mobile client, as well as preventing multiple P2P clients from flooding routers. As the name suggests, MLDonkey supports the eDonkey P2P network, but it also supports downloading from BitTorrent, FastTrack and even some more obscure networks like SoulSeek and DC++. It runs silently as a daemon or service on the server, while local apps can be installed on as many client devices as you like. These local apps control and queue downloads, but all the downloading happens on the server itself. There are MLDonkey interface apps available for just about every platform, with the notable exception of iOS; but even iOS users can access it using a web interface.
pyLoad is a download manager in the vein of JDownloader or FreeRapid: it queues and automates downloading from a variety of web services, including most of the major file hosts (sites like RapidShare or the now defunct Megaupload) as well as services like YouTube. It can also queue regular HTTP and FTP downloads. It supports CAPTCHA input — it will guess if it can, or ask the user if it can't — as well as premium accounts with file hosters. What sets pyLoad apart from the aforementioned JDownloader and FreeRapid is its client-server model. You can access pyLoad to add downloads or complete CAPTCHA queries through a web interface, and there's also an Android client you can download from Google Play.
We've cheated a little with this one and included two similar apps, both of which are handy for automating downloads from newsgroups and BitTorrent. CouchPotato and Sick Beard will monitor Usenet newsgroups and BitTorrent feeds for items matching the parameters you specify. When they find a match they'll download the file automatically. If you download episodic TV content, they're great for grabbing every episode that appears (and can also be set to download backlogs). Running them on your server means they can be always active and out of the way and will automatically put downloads in shared folders. They also have web interfaces for remote management on other PCs or any device with a web browser.
Sure, there are plenty of Minecraft multiplayer servers already running on the internet, but what if you want to make your own rules? Downloading and installing the Minecraft server lets you create your own world and limit who gets to play. Configuration can be a little involved, so you might need to check out www.minecraftwiki.net for a guide on editing configuration files.
Another specialised media streaming application, Subsonic is primarily designed for streaming music from your server to multiple PCs and mobile clients around the home. Unlike DLNA, it supports a complex library function and a direct web interface for playing music; there are also specific apps for iOS, Android and Windows Phone for playing music stored on your server. It can transcode tracks on the fly if your client doesn't support the native music formats, and it supports the SHOUTcast protocol for third-party clients like Winamp.
Installing a virtual network computing (VNC) server on your home server gives you the ability to remote control the server. VNC works in a very similar fashion to Microsoft's Remote Desktop: on your client device, whether it's a PC, Mac, tablet or whatever, you can see and control the server's interface. It's a very handy way to both remotely manage the server and effectively turn any device you might have into a fully capable terminal for that server. There are dozens of VNC servers available, but we're fans of the free TightVNC Server for Windows, which works with most standard VNC/RFB clients. You can also download the TightVNC Java client, which supports additional features like TightVNC's native multimedia compression.
An FTP server might seem a little anachronistic in the days of Dropbox, peer-to-peer and cloud drives, but FileZilla remains a very simple and effective way to share files across the internet without needing to get a third party involved. You just install FileZilla Server on your Windows server, then set directories and access controls. You can access the shares over the internet from any FTP client as long as you know the IP address of your server (or have dynamic DNS set up on your server or router). You can use the FileZilla client for accessing FTP shares, but most browsers will also support ftp:// links to shared files.
The eyeOS developers describe it as a 'cloud operating system'; it's a complete suite of applications and tools that can be entirely accessed through a web browser. Install eyeOS on your Windows or Linux server and web clients can log in and use eyeOS remotely — it looks like a mini OS operating inside their web browser. It works with both PC web browsers and mobile browsers. You need to have a web server set up to install eyeOS, since it works primarily through PHP and XML, translating user actions back to the server to control the various apps. All users access a common file share (the server's) and can each have unique instances of apps running. There are 67 apps in the base package, including office apps, education apps, games, media players and mail and network apps. The free version of eyeOS can be found at tinyurl.com/7ecssne.