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Get to Know Windows 7's Home-Networking Features

By Tony Bradley, PC World
October 19, 2009 08:41 PM ET

PC World - Networking isn't just for business anymore--these days, home networks are the norm. In response, Microsoft is offering the Windows 7 Family Pack, which includes three licenses for Windows 7 Home Premium at a discounted price.

The multilicense bundle isn't Microsoft's only move: In Windows 7 the company has made networking home PCs and sharing their files and folders much simpler. Whether you need to connect to the network, to share printers and resources, to access and play music, or to do anything else across the network, Windows 7 makes the entire process more seamless and intuitive than it was in either Windows Vista or Windows XP.

Managing Network Connections

In Windows 7, Microsoft has improved the Network and Sharing Center (introduced in Windows Vista) to provide greater functionality and make it the go-to place for managing all aspects of network connectivity.

The Network and Sharing Center--which is available in the Windows 7 Starter, Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate editions--allows you to find new networks and create new network connections, verify connection status, and troubleshoot network connectivity issues.

At the top is a visual representation of the current connection; you'll also find a link that displays the full map of your network, visually. If you lose your connection, the graphic will show the broken connection so that you can easily identify which portion is down.

You can click Troubleshoot problems at the bottom of the Network and Sharing Center to initiate diagnostic tests that will help you identify and resolve the issue. You can also establish new wireless-network or VPN connections by clicking Set up a new connection or network and following the prompts in the wizard.

The left side of the Network and Sharing Center provides links to more-advanced networking functions such as changing adapter settings or managing the Windows Firewall. One significant enhancement in Windows 7 gives you the ability to configure unique firewall profiles for the different location types (Home, Work, and Public); as you move from one location to another, Windows 7 will automatically apply the firewall rules for the appropriate location type.

HomeGroup

The next significant enhancement in Windows 7 is the HomeGroup. Microsoft designed the HomeGroup to mimic the way people generally protect their homes: You keep the outside doors locked to deter unwanted visitors, but you keep the interior doors unlocked to allow free passage for family members. When guests visit your home, you give them access to common areas such as the living room, but typically you don't let them venture into bedrooms or other private areas.

In previous editions of Windows, resources that are shared on the network are generally available to all, so a guest who is allowed to use the network--or an attacker who gains access through weak wireless-network security--is able to access all of the same resources as your family members can. (Be sure to practice good network security by making sure that encryption is enabled on your router and that you have a secure password.)

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