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Sharing Resources with the Network

Small networks are normally egalitarian affairs because no computer is in any significant sense more important than the others. One of the ways that this digital equality manifests itself is via the universal sharing of at least some resources on each computer. People rarely make their entire computer available to their fellow network users, but it's a rare machine that doesn't have at least a drive or folder to share.

Fortunately, when it comes to sharing resources on the network, Windows Vista come with quite a few options that enable you to share what resources you want and to control how others can access those resources. Network sharing in Vista begins by configuring the basic sharing options, of which there are five in all: general file sharing, Public folder sharing, printer sharing, password-protected sharing, and media sharing.

The next four sections cover the first four of these options; I'll leave media sharing to Chapter 9, "Setting Up Vista as a Digital Media Hub." To view and work with these options, you need to open the Network and Sharing Center (as described in Chapter 5, "Working with Vista's Basic Network Tools and Tasks," in the section "Working with Vista's Basic Network Tools and Tasks").

For the details about media sharing, see "Sharing Your Media Player Library," p. 207.

To learn how to open the Network and Sharing Center, see "Accessing the Network and Sharing Center," p. 125.

Activating File and Printer Sharing

In the Network and Sharing Center's Sharing and Discovery section, the File Sharing setting covers general file and printer sharing. If the current setting is Off, follow these steps to activate file and printer sharing:

  1. Click the downward-pointing arrow to the right of the File Sharing setting to expand the setting.
  2. Select the Turn On File Sharing option, as shown in Figure 8.12. This will allow other people on the network to access your shared files and printers.
    Figure 8.12

    Figure 8.12 Expand the File Sharing setting, and then activate the Turn On File Sharing option.

  3. Click Apply. The User Account Control dialog box appears.
  4. Enter your UAC credentials to put the new setting into effect.

Sharing the Public Folder

The Public Folder Sharing setting covers sharing the Public folder. If the current setting is Off, here are the steps to follow to activate sharing the Public folder:

  1. Click the downward-pointing arrow to the right of the Public Folder Sharing setting to expand the setting.
  2. Select one of the following options (see Figure 8.13):
    • Turn On Sharing So Anyone with Network Access Can Open Files. Select this option to share the Public folder, but allow network users only to read files in that folder. (That is, users can't create new files or change existing files.)
    • Turn On Sharing So Anyone with Network Access Can Open, Change, and Create Files. Select this option to share the Public folder, and allow network users to read, edit, and create new files in that folder.
    Figure 8.13

    Figure 8.13 Expand the Public Folder Sharing setting and then activate one of the options to turn on sharing of the Public folder.

  3. Click Apply. The User Account Control dialog box appears.
  4. Enter your UAC credentials to put the new setting into effect.

Activating Printer Folder Sharing

The Printer Sharing setting covers sharing the Printers folder. If the current setting is Off, follow these steps to activate sharing for the Printers folder:

  1. Click the downward-pointing arrow to the right of the Printer Sharing setting to expand the setting.
  2. Select the Turn On Printer Sharing option, as shown in Figure 8.14. This will allow other people on the network to access your Printers folder.
    Figure 8.14

    Figure 8.14 Expand the Printer Sharing setting and then activate the Turn On Printer Sharing option.

  3. Click Apply. The User Account Control dialog box appears.
  4. Enter your UAC credentials to put the new setting into effect.

Using Password Protected Sharing

The Password Protected Sharing setting covers sharing with password protection. That is, when you turn on password protected sharing, only people who know the username and password of an account on your computer can access your shared resources. If the current setting is Off, follow these steps to activate password protected sharing:

  1. Click the downward-pointing arrow to the right of the Password Protected Sharing setting to expand the setting.
  2. Select the Turn On Password Protected Sharing option, as shown in Figure 8.15.
    Figure 8.15

    Figure 8.15 Expand the Password Protected Sharing setting, and then activate the Turn On Password Protected Sharing option.

  3. Click Apply. The User Account Control dialog box appears.
  4. Enter your UAC credentials to put the new setting into effect.

Using Public Folder Sharing

If you have the Public Folder Sharing setting turned on (see "Sharing the Public Folder," earlier in this chapter), you can use the Public folder to share files or other folders with the network. This is often the easiest way to share resources with the network because you only have to worry about one shared location, which keeps your life simple and makes it easier for other people to find what you're sharing.

To get to the Public folder, follow these steps:

  1. Open any folder window.
  2. Click Folders to display the Folders list.
  3. At the top of the list, click Desktop.
  4. Double-click the Public icon.

Figure 8.16 shows the default Public folder, which includes a half dozen subfolders: Public Documents, Public Downloads, Public Music, Public Pictures, Public Videos, and Recorded TV.

Figure 8.16

Figure 8.16 The Public folder and its subfolders offer a simple way to share files and folders with the network.

Creating User Accounts for Sharing

If you activated the Password Protected Sharing option (see "Using Password Protected Sharing," earlier in this chapter), you have to do one of the following:

  • Set up separate accounts for each user that you want to access a shared resource. Do this if you want to assign each user a different set of permissions, or if you want the usernames and passwords to match each user's local username and password.
  • Set up a single account for all remote users to use. Do this if you want to assign the same set of permissions for all users.

Here are some notes to bear in mind for creating users who will access your computer over a network:

  • Windows Vista does not allow users without passwords to access network resources. Therefore, you must set up your network user accounts with passwords.
  • The usernames you create do not have to correspond with the names that users have on their local machines. You're free to set up your own usernames, if you like.
  • If you create a user account that has the same name and password as an account of a user on his or her local machine, that user will be able to access your shared resources directly. Otherwise, as you saw earlier (see Figure 8.2), a Connect To dialog box appears so that the user can enter the username and password that you established when setting up the account on your computer.

You create a new user account in Windows Vista by following these steps:

  1. Select Start, Control Panel to open the Control Panel window.
  2. Under the User Accounts and Family Safety icon, click the Add or Remove User Accounts link. The User Account Control dialog box appears.
  3. Enter your UAC credentials to continue. Vista displays the Manage Accounts window.
  4. Click Create a New Account. The Create New Account window appears.
  5. Type the name for the account. The name can be up to 20 characters and must be unique on the system.
  6. Activate either Administrator (to add the user to the Administrators group) or Standard User (to add the user to the Users group).
  7. Click Create Account. Vista creates the new account and returns you to the Manage Accounts window.
  8. Click the account you just created. The Change An Account window appears.
  9. Click the Create a Password link. Vista displays the Create Password window.
  10. Type the user's password in the New Password and Confirm New Password text boxes.
  11. Use the Type a Password Hint text box to type a reminder for the user in case he forgets the password.
  12. Click Create Password.

Sharing a Resource with the File Sharing Wizard

By default, Windows Vista comes with the File Sharing Wizard activated. This is a simplified sharing feature that removes some of the complexity from sharing folders and files. However, it also removes much of the power and flexibility of sharing, so Vista also enables you to turn off the File Sharing Wizard. I show you how to do that in the next section. So that you can compare the two methods, here are the steps to follow to use the File Sharing Wizard to share a folder or file:

  1. Select Start, and then click your username to open your user profile folder.
  2. Click the folder you want to share. If you want to share a subfolder or file, instead, open its folder, and then click the subfolder or file.
  3. Click the Share button in the task pane. Vista launches the File Sharing Wizard, which asks you to choose the user accounts you want to share the item with.
  4. Type the username and click Add.
  5. Repeat step 4 as necessary to share the folder or file with other users.
  6. For each user you added, assign a permission level by clicking the downward-pointing arrow and selecting one of the following (see Figure 8.17):

    Reader

    This is the default level, and it means the user can only view the shared file or folder and open its contents. The user can't create, change, or delete anything.

    Contributor

    This level means that the user can add new files to the shared folder, and that the user can make changes to or delete any file that the user has added to the folder.

    Co-owner

    This level means that the user can create new items, and that the user can make changes to or delete any item.

    Figure 8.17

    Figure 8.17 The Sharing Wizard asks you to choose the permission level for each user.

  7. Click Share. The User Account Control dialog box appears.
  8. Enter your UAC credentials to continue. The File Sharing Wizard sets up sharing for the file or folder.
  9. If you want to send an email to the users to let them know the folder or file is shared, click the E-mail link; otherwise, click Done.

If you no longer want to share a folder or file, you can change the sharing using either of the following methods:

  • To remove a user from the sharing. Follow steps 1 through 3 in this section, and then click Change Sharing Permissions to display the list of shared users. Click the permission level for the user you want to work with, and then click Remove.
  • To stop sharing the folder or file entirely. Follow steps 1 through 3 in this section, and then click Stop Sharing.

To learn how to share a folder using advanced permissions, see "Setting Sharing Permissions on Shared Folders," p. 315.

Viewing Your Shared Resources

After a while, you might lose track of which folders you've shared. You could look through all your folders to look for those that have the Shared icon attached, but that's too much work, and you could easily miss some shared folder. Fortunately, Windows Vista offers a couple of easier methods. Open the Network and Sharing Center and then use the following two links at the bottom of the window:

  • Show Me All the Files and Folders I Am Sharing. Click this link to open the Shared By Me search folder.
  • Show Me All the Shared Network Folders on This Computer. Click this link to open a folder window showing your computer's shared folders and printers.
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