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Accessing and Sharing Network Resources in Windows Vista

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Sharing an Internet connection is a must for any modern network, but networking should be about sharing so much more. This chapter explains how you can work, play, and connect with your fellow network users using Vista.
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Many home and small office networks exist for no other reason than to share a broadband Internet connection. The administrators of those networks attach a broadband modem to a router, configure the router, run some ethernet cable (or set up wireless connections), and then they never think about the network again.

There's nothing wrong with this scenario, of course, but there's something that just feels, well, incomplete about such a network. Sharing an Internet connection is a must for any modern network, but networking should be about sharing so much more: disk drives, folders, documents, music, photos, videos, recorded TV shows, printers, scanners, CD and DVD burners, projectors, and more.

This expanded view of networking is about working, playing, and connecting with your fellow network users. It is, in short, about sharing, and sharing is the subject of this chapter. You learn how to access those network resources that others have shared, and you learn how to share your own resources with the network.

Accessing Shared Network Resources

After you connect to the network, the first thing you'll likely want to do is see what's on the network and access the available resources. Vista gives you two ways to get started:

  • Select Start, Network.
  • In the Network and Sharing Center, click View Network Computers and Devices.

Either way, you see the Network window, which lists the main network resources, such as the computers and media devices in your workgroup. As you can see in Figure 8.1, Details view shows you the resource name, category, workgroup or domain name, and the name of the network profile.

Figure 8.1

Figure 8.1 Vista's Network window displays the main resources on your network.

For a more detailed look at the types of items you see in the Network window, see "Viewing Network Computers and Devices," p. 130.

Viewing a Computer's Shared Resources

Your Network window will likely show mostly computers, and those are the network items you'll work with most often. (The computers display an icon that shows a monitor and mini tower computer; if you're not sure, select View, Details and look for the objects that have Computer in the Category column.) If you don't see a particular computer, it likely means that the machine is either turned off or is currently in Sleep mode. You need to either turn on or wake up the computer.

You may be able to remotely wake up a computer that's in Sleep mode; see "Using a Network Connection to Wake Up a Sleeping Computer," p. 151.

If you see the computer you want to work with, double-click the computer's icon. One of two things will happen:

  • If your user account is also a user account on the remote computer, Windows Vista displays the computer's shared resources.
  • If your user account is not a user account on the remote computer, and the remote computer has activated password protected sharing (see "Using Password Protected Sharing," later in this chapter), Windows Vista displays the Connect to Computer dialog box (where Computer is the name of the remote computer). You need to type the username and password of an account on the remote computer, as shown in Figure 8.2.
    Figure 8.2

    Figure 8.2 You may need to log on to the remote computer to see its shared resources.

Figure 8.3 shows a typical collection of shared resources for a computer.

Figure 8.3

Figure 8.3 Double-click a network computer to see its shared resources.

The computer shown in Figure 8.3 is sharing a folder named Data, two hard drives (Drive D and Drive G), a DVD drive, and a printer. The computer is also sharing two folders that that many Vista computers automatically share:


This folder is open to everyone on the network and usually provides users with full read/write access. However, it's also possible to protect this folder by giving users read-only access, or by not displaying the Public folder at all. See "Sharing the Public Folder," later in this chapter.


This folder contains the computer's installed printers. Vista usually places an icon for each shared printer in the computer's main folder, too. You can control whether Vista displays the Printers folder; see "Activating Printer Folder Sharing," later in this chapter.

Double-click a shared folder to see its contents. For example, Figure 8.4 displays the partial contents of the Data folder shown earlier in Figure 8.3. What you can do with the shared folder's contents depends on the permissions the computer owner has applied to the folder. See "Sharing a Resource with the File Sharing Wizard" and "Sharing a Resource with Advanced Permissions," later in this chapter.

Working with Network Addresses

In Figure 8.4, the Address bar shows the breadcrumb path to the shared folder:

Network > PAULSPC > Data
Figure 8.4

Figure 8.4 Double-click a shared folder to see its contents.

Clicking an empty section of the Address bar (or the icon that appears on the left side of the Address bar) changes the breadcrumb path to the following network address, as shown in Figure 8.5:

Figure 8.5

Figure 8.5 Click an empty section of the Address bar to see the network address.

As you can see, a network address uses the following format:


Here, ComputerName is the name of the network computer, and ShareName is the name of the shared resource on that computer. This format for network addresses is known as the Universal Naming Convention (UNC). If the UNC refers to a drive or folder, you can use the regular Windows path conventions to access folders and subfolders on that resource. For example, if the resource Data on PAULSPC has a Documents folder, the network address of that folder would be as follows:


Similarly, if that Documents folder has a Writing subfolder, here's the network address of that subfolder:


So, although you'll most often use icons in folder windows to navigate through a computer's shared resources, network addresses give you an alternative way to specify the resource you want to work with. Here are some examples:

  • In the Network Explorer, click an empty section of the Address bar, type the network address for a shared resource, and then press Enter.
  • Press Windows Logo+R (or select Start, All Programs, Accessories, Run) to open the Run dialog box. Type the network address for a shared resource, and then click OK to open the resource in a folder window.
  • In a program's Open or Save As dialog box, you can type a network address in the File Name text box.
  • In a Command Prompt session (select Start, All Programs, Accessories, Command Prompt), type start, then a space, then the network address of the resource you want to open. Here's an example:
    start \\paulspc\data\documents
  • In a Command Prompt session, you can use a network address as part of a command. For example, to copy a file named memo.doc from \\PAULSPC\Documents\Downloads\ to the current folder, you'd use the following command:
    copy "\\paulspc\data\documents\memo.doc"
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