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Windows 7 Networking Sneak Peek

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Take a tour of Windows 7's new networking features and interfaces, in which you'll discover both the beneficial and negative changes. You'll see the changes to the network icon, Network and Sharing Center, and Windows Firewall. Eric Geier also evaluates the new HomeGroup feature, which strives to help make home and small office networking and sharing easier.
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Windows 7 should be on the shelves within a year. The visual and core changes aren't as drastic as the jump from XP to Vista—with the exception of the taskbar—, but there has been a fair amount of work done on the interface and functionality. Some of these changes include the networking features, which is what we're going to concentrate on.

We'll tour the networking and firewall interfaces of Windows 7 (using the public beta version) to see what has been added, improved, and removed.

We'll evaluate the changes to see how it will impact our networking experience. Let's get started!

Improved Network Icon

The functionality of the network icon in the lower-right corner of Windows, the system tray, has been greatly improved.

Instead of being teased about wireless networks being available when clicking on it, a menu appears serving as the View Available Wireless Networks or Connect To list.

As you see in Figure 1, the list now serves as a launching or connection point for other network-related connections, such as Mobile Broadband, Dial-up, and VPN connections.

To initial a connection, you just select it from the list and click Connect. Then you'll be prompted by dialog boxes if it requires you to enter an encryption key or phase, or login credentials.

This streamlined connection process will help reduce the amount of clicking around you must do to get online.

Changes to the Network and Sharing Center

As you see in Figure 2, there have been changes to the Network and Sharing Center, which debuted in Windows Vista.

The Sharing and Discovery settings on the main screen didn't survive the overhaul. However, these settings haven't been eliminated; they've been moved to support the new network configuration scheme, which we'll discuss in a moment.

To fill the whitespace, Microsoft moved some of the Tasks links around. However, they forgot about the links on the bottom of the center. These two links opened windows that showed you exactly what is being shared on the network, which I think were useful in Vista.

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