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How Vista Makes Home Networking Better

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Mark Edward Soper explains how Windows Vista networking has been improved through enhancements to the Network Setup Wizard, the new Network folder, and resource sharing. He also includes a list of Networking Best and Worst Practices to keep your network in tip top shape.

In this chapter

  • Connecting to a Wireless Network
  • Using the Network and Sharing Center
  • Sharing Folders and Printers
  • Networking Best and Worst Practices

By this time, it’s probably no surprise to read "In Windows Vista, __________ has gone through major changes." Just as you might expect, you can fill in the word "networking" in the blank provided. So, just what is it that makes Windows Vista networking different?

  • Windows Vista includes a unified Network Setup Wizard for any type of network.
  • The new Network folder replaces My Network Places and provides new tools for managing networks.
  • Windows Vista systems can use each other’s shared resources, even if they don’t belong to the same workgroup.
  • The new Network and Sharing Center provides a control center for file sharing, media sharing, network discovery, and network mapping.

With more computers running on networks than ever before, Windows Vista changes how networking works, and mainly for the better.

Connecting to a Wireless Network

Windows XP first made connecting to a wireless network with a broadcast SSID easy. Windows Vista continues the tradition. To connect to a wireless network that uses a broadcast SSID, open the Start menu and select the Network Explorer. Below the Network Explorer menu bar, you see a yellow information bar stating "This computer is not connected to a network. Click to connect." When you click the connection bar, available networks are displayed. Figure 12.1 illustrates three types of network connections: unsecure infrastructure, secure infrastructure, and ad-hoc.

Figure 12.1

Figure 12.1 Types of wireless network connections.

To connect to an unsecure network, select the network connection and click Connect. A security warning is displayed when you attempt to connect to an unsecure wireless network (see Figure 12.2 A). Click Connect Anyway to complete the connection, click Connect to a Different Network to try a different network, or click Cancel to stop the process.

To connect to a secure infrastructure network for the first time, select the network connection and click Connect. Enter the security key or passphrase when prompted (see Figure 12.2 B), and click Connect to make the connection.

The option to insert a USB flash drive to bring in network settings supports Microsoft’s Connect Now technology, first introduced in Windows XP SP2’s Wireless Network Setup Wizard. Connect Now uses a USB flash drive to store network settings for transport between systems and the wireless router.

Figure 12.2

Figure 12.2 Connecting to a wireless network.

Connecting to a "Hidden" Wireless Network

Many businesses and homeowners prefer to configure their wireless networks so that the SSID is not broadcast, creating a "hidden" wireless network that some believe is more difficult to hack. In some cases, an unsecured wireless network that doesn’t broadcast its SSID may be displayed as an Unnamed Network in the Connect to a Network dialog (refer to Figure 12.2 A). To connect to the network, select it, and click Connect. Provide the SSID and click Next. Click Connect Anyway, and choose whether to save the network and automatically connect to it when prompted.

If the network is not displayed, click the Set Up a Connection or Network link shown in Figure 12.1, choose Manually Connect to a Wireless Network from the connection options shown, and click Next.

Enter the network name (SSID), security type, encryption type, and security key/passphrase when prompted (see Figure 12.3). Select the Start This Connection Automatically check box to make a connection to this network whenever it is available. Select the Connect Even If the Network Is Not Broadcasting check box. The connection starts.

Figure 12.3

Figure 12.3 Connecting to a network that does not broadcast its SSID.

Set Network Location

After connecting to a wireless network, you may be prompted to select a network type. Choose from home, work, or public location. Home or work locations are private, whereas a public location is (of course) public.

When you select the private location type, you can see other computers and devices on the network: a feature known as network discovery. For example, you can see other Windows Vista computers, even if they are part of a different workgroup than yours. Also, the Windows Firewall is turned on, and file, media, and printer sharing are disabled.

The public location setting also enables Windows Firewall and disables file, printer, and media sharing. However, it also disables network discovery. If you move from one wireless network to another (for example, from home to office, or from office to a hotel), you will be prompted to select the network location for each new wireless network.

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