Microsoft overhauled the networking functionality and interfaces of Windows back in Vista. Networking in the home got easier. The Network and Sharing Centerstill in Windows 7serves as a portal to all the network settings.
However, it was still tricky to offer password-based sharing, or to get sharing to work at all.
Microsoft now gives us a totally new network feature in Windows 7 called HomeGroup. It helps those on home or small networks share their files and printers with each other.
As you'll discover, the new Libraries feature that helps you organize your files comes into play with HomeGroup.
And because people on the network have to know the HomeGroup password to join and get access, it's more secure, too.
The only caveatand it's a big oneis that only Windows 7 machines can participate in a HomeGroup. But keep your fingers crossed; maybe Microsoft will release an update for XP and/or Vista.
Starting a HomeGroup
Click the network icon in the lower-right corner of Windows 7 and open the Network and Sharing Center. As Figure 1 shows, you'll see evidence of the new HomeGroup right off the bat.
Along with the other connection links to the right of the Home icon, you'll see the HomeGroup status "Ready to create". Plus a link for the feature is with the other setting links below that and also on the bottom of the left pane.
When you're ready to get started, click one of those links. Then on the initial page, click Create a homegroup. On the wizard that appears (see Figure 2), choose which libraries you want to share on the HomeGroup and click Next.
After it clunks around for a minute, it will display the password for your HomeGroup, such as Figure 3 shows. Copy this down or click the button to print it. When you're done, click the Finish button.
After you're done, it will take you to the settings page. As Figure 4 shows, you can change which libraries and/or printers you want to share, set up media sharing, and do other miscellaneous tasks.
You can get to this page from all the HomeGroup links on the Network and Sharing Center. Figure 5 shows an example of the Network and Sharing Center after you've created/joined a HomeGroup.
Joining a HomeGroup
You need to create a HomeGroup only once. Then you can make your other computers join the group. Simply bring up the Network and Sharing Center and click one of the HomeGroup links: on the bottom left, under the network settings, or the Available to join link on the right of the Home icon.
The initial page will tell you the name of the HomeGroup it found. On this page, click Join Now.
You'll be asked for the password; enter the one that was automatically chosen for the HomeGroup when you created it. On the next page, choose the libraries you want to share and click Join Now. Then on the finial page, click Finish.