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How to Network Vista and XP Computers Together

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Want to connect your new Windows Vista machine to your existing XP box? It's not rocket science, but it's not quite as simple as you might expect. To help, Jason Kerluck provides a step-by-step guide to connecting your Vista machine to your XP computer.

Most computers you’ll buy today have Windows Vista loaded on them. But often, when your new computer gets to its new home, there is an XP machine (or two) waiting, to keep it company. Inevitably, you’ll want to hook up all the computers so that they can share files. Since both are Microsoft products, the reasoning goes, it should be a cinch, right? You’d be off the mark a bit. Now that’s not to say it’s hard to do, but Vista is not simply a spit-and-polished version of XP. A lot has changed both in security, networking ease of use and performance. So here’s a step-by-step guide to connecting your Vista machine to your XP computer.

To start, let’s prepare the XP machine so it can see the Vista machine connect with it.

First start by checking the file system on the XP system. You’ll want to ensure the XP computer is using NTFS — or New Technology File System — because this improves security at a file level and makes it easier to interface with Vista’s more stringent security. Both Vista and XP use the NTFS file system. Microsoft’s earlier operating systems Windows NT and Windows 2000 used it, too.

XP brought the NTFS file system to the average computer. XP is also capable of using the older and less desirable FAT32 (File Allocation Table 32-bit version) file system. FAT32 was found in Windows 95 (OEM Service Release 2), 98 and ME. It’s less secure than NTFS but some XP systems, especially those upgraded from 98, may still use it.

To check if you are already running on an NTFS file system, right-click on My Computer, select Manage, then select Disk Management to see what file system your hard drive is running. If you are running FAT32, you have to switch to NTFS. Just go to the Start button and click Run. A little window will open up. Type in the letters cmd (short for command) and click OK. A new command window will open that will look a lot like the old DOS screen... that’s because it is, well, as close as you can get. It’s an emulation. Type this line where the flashing cursor is:

convert c: /fs:ntfs

Once you’re done, repeat this step on any other XP computers as needed. After the conversion is complete, restart your computer. Now the foundation is laid for the network to run as smoothly as possible.

If you run Windows XP Professional, open "My Computer" and select Tools and then Folder Options. Under the View tab, go to the advanced setting window. Scroll down until you see the option to "Use Simple File Sharing." Uncheck it, if it is checked, Now, click Apply, then OK, otherwise the change will not occur. Go to your Start menu, select Control Panel. Find the Network and Internet connections button. In the Network Connections panel, right-click your Ethernet card (usually referred to as "Local Area Connection"). Under the General Tab, make sure that "File and Printer Sharing For Microsoft Networks" is clicked.

Now, you’ll go back to the main Control Panel and select Performance and Maintenance, and select System (if you are using Classic View, select System). In the window that opens, select the "Computer Name" tab, and down three-quarters of the way, click on the Change button. From here, make sure that the Workgroup name is the same for all computers. Windows XP Home uses MSHOME, while XP Pro uses WORKGROUP. I’d leave it as WORKGROUP, but you could switch it to your last name or anything else, so long as you use the same workgroup name on all the systems. You will need to reboot the computer now to make the changes.

For Windows XP Home Users: From this point, pick which folder you want to share and right-click on it. From the menu, select Sharing and Security. You’ll get a box that will show the folder sharing options. Click the box that says, "Share this Folder on the Network". For ease of use, also select the box next to "Allow Network Users to Change my Files." Do this to all drives or folders you want to share. From there, Windows XP Home is ready to share files with other computers that are connected to the same network.

For Windows XP Professional Users: From this point, pick which folder you want to share and right-click on it. From the menu, select Sharing and Security. You’ll get a box that will show the folder sharing options. Click on the box that says "Share this folder," the share name will be the folder name itself. On the Permissions button you can allow Read, Change or Full Control. Make sure to click Apply then OK once you have picked which permissions you want for your shared folder.

Admittedly, this is dry and tedious stuff, but it’s worth it in the end.

On the Vista computer, you’re going to click on the Start menu and type "system" in the Search Box. Click on System when it appears in the menu. In the Computer Name Domain and Workgroup Settings, you’ll see the name of the workgroup that Vista has set up already. Change that name to whatever you’ve set on the XP systems. To change it, simply click on Change settings. Vista will pop up the now familiar (or obnoxious) UAC (User Account Control) warning. Select Continue. From here, change the workgroup name to the one you’ve selected. Make sure you’ve picked the Computer Name tab. Click on Change next to the words "To rename this computer or change its domain or workgroup, click Change..." At the bottom of the system properties window, you will find an option called "Member of." Choose Workgroup. The default name should already be WORKGROUP. You can change it to the one you want to use. Click OK. Now, reboot the computer. Do not choose Domain. That is mainly in use in corporate environments or if you are running a Windows server in your house with a domain controller. That, of course, is not a likely scenario for the average home user.

Reboot the Vista machine, then proceed to pick the folders you want to share from Vista.

Go to the Network and Sharing Center (find it by typing "sharing" in the search box on the Start Menu). Turn on Network Discovery and File Sharing. To share from the Vista folder C:\Users\Public, turn on Public Folder Sharing. Turning on Password Protect Sharing can also turn on an increased level of security when you share files. You can also turn on Media Sharing (to share files in Windows Media Player).

To share a folder on Vista, right-click on the folder in question, select Properties followed by clicking on the Sharing tab. Under Advanced Sharing, click on the Advanced Sharing... button, and a new Advanced Sharing window will appear. Put a check mark in the Share this folder box, same as with Windows XP Professional, choose Permissions and select the access permissions for this folder as appropriate. "Read" gives the user ability to open a file but not change it. "Change" gives them the ability to edit it. "Full Control" allows them to do anything to it.

Once Vista is configured, and all of the other computers are on the network, they should be able to see each other. To check on XP, go to "My Network Places" in the Start Menu. From Vista you’ll also be able to see the XP computers in the Network folder. Just select the "Start Menu" button and click on Network. From here, the folders and drives you selected should be visible and accessible.

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