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Windows Network Troubleshooting

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Windows, windows everywhere! The zillions of flavors of Windows can seem daunting, but fear not: this lesson encapsulates many common properties of Windows into several "families," which make dealing with Windows much easier from a troubleshooting perspective. Windows file-and-print, name resolution, authentication, and resource tracking are just some of the goodies within.
This chapter is from the book

There is more to life than increasing its speed.
—Mahatma Ghandi

Whoa! Stop the world, I want to get off. In less than a decade, Microsoft has blown through what seems like a million versions of its Windows operating system. Although this gives end users much-improved functionality (just the ability to avoid rebooting more than once daily makes many of us sing hosannas), it also makes system administrators and budget officers tear their hair out over the technology and cost implications of this upgrade treadmill.

Less-than-infinite budgets at many organizations means that it's likely that you'll run into many, many versions of Windows; but take heart, underneath the slick exterior of even the latest Fisher-Price look of Windows XP, the guts can be simplified, understood, and conquered. That's the purpose of this hour.

You'll want to know the basics of using Windows networking before cruising through this hour; this hour dives into the theory behind Windows networking, and gives you enough practical knowledge that you'll definitely be able to solve most Windows problems that come your way. (Don't worry, when I say basics, I really do mean basics. If you already know how to map a drive in Windows, share files, and so on, you're in good shape. If not, don't fret; just check out http://support.microsoft.com/support/kb/articles/q152/5/62.asp. I promise, we'll still be here when you get back.)

So, given that the Windows family tree has grown up sort of wildly, how do we simplify it? Well, for starters, let's subdivide that tree into two sub-families, the Windows 9x family and the Windows NT family. As you might guess, the Windows 9x family will be going bye-bye at some point; but there is still plenty of it out there, and we might as well know how to deal with it. Here's how the current operating systems divvy up:

  • Windows 9x Family—Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows 98SE, Windows ME

  • Windows NT Family—Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000 Pro, Windows 2000 Server, Windows 2000 Advanced Server, Windows XP Home Edition, Windows XP Professional

Okay, good deal. We can deal with two branches of a family tree, right? Here's how we'll tackle the material itself. We'll start by chatting about how Windows networking works, laying some foundations for troubleshooting Windows networking, and transitioning naturally into networking tools. Finally, a troubleshooter requires resource monitoring and process trace tools for all operating systems, and Windows is no exception. Accordingly, we'll finish up with a discussion of these tools, with a nod to tools that allow you to rescue your Windows machine if you find you're unable to boot or login.

File and Print Foundations

Although Windows allows you to connect with everything but the kitchen sink (and I hear that Microsoft is working on this), we'll focus only on the networking tools Microsoft has invented and provides. If you've got a good handle on the theory behind Windows networking, you'll be better able to troubleshoot it when it's not working. (It's always nice to know what you're looking for with the flashlight.) Not surprisingly, there are actually several components to a successful Windows network (I'll define these further as we go along):

  • Naming services (WINS/NetBIOS, DNS)

  • Authentication services (NT Domain, Active Directory Domain, or Workgroup Sharing)

  • File and print services (SMB)

As you might expect, running a peer-to-peer Windows 95 network is a lot simpler than setting up a Windows 2000 network over a wide area connection; however, the building blocks are very similar. If you use Microsoft file and print networking, your computer is either part of a workgroup or a domain. Either way, though, you are likely using TCP/IP as your protocol, and as such, rely on infrastructure services such as DHCP and DNS. (For more on DHCP and DNS proper, see Hour 19, "Internet and Intranet Troubleshooting: TCP/IP at Work.")

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