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Using the Network and Sharing Center

The Network and Sharing Center is Windows Vista’s one-stop network shop (see Figure 12.4). You can open it from Control Panel’s Network and Internet category, or from the Network Explorer.

Figure 12.4

Figure 12.4 The Network and Sharing Center.

The main pane of the Network and Sharing Center is used to

  • View network status
  • Disconnect from the current network, or connect to a network
  • Enable or disable network discovery, file and printer sharing, media sharing, Public folder sharing, and password-protected sharing

Use the Tasks pane at left to

  • View computers and devices with Network Explorer
  • Connect to a network
  • Manage wireless and other network connections
  • Manually set up a connection or network
  • Troubleshoot networks

Understanding Network Discovery

Windows Vista is the first version of Windows to include a setting called network discovery. When network discovery is enabled, as it is in the Home and Work location types, you can see other computers and devices, and they can see your computer.

Network discovery even works across workgroups, although it takes longer to discover systems in different workgroups. When network discovery is enabled, you can access shared folders in either your own workgroup or other workgroups (on systems running Windows Vista only).

Configuring Network Discovery and Sharing

The Sharing and Discovery dialog shown in Figure 12.5 A is used to configure sharing and discovery. If you want to share network folders and media with other computers, you must enable network discovery and file sharing.

When you enable network discovery, you can also change the workgroup name.

When you enable Public folder sharing, you can specify read-only access (open files) or full access (open, change, and create files). Turning off Public folder sharing does not prevent users on the local system from accessing files in the Public folder.

If you enable password-protected sharing, you must create user accounts on your system for each network user you want to access shared resources. When media sharing is enabled, use the Change button to open the Media Sharing dialog shown in Figure 12.5 B. Use this dialog to allow or deny sharing to other systems running Windows Media Player 11. To specify the types of files you share with others, click the Settings button to open the Media Sharing – Default Settings dialog shown in Figure 12.5 C.

Media sharing can also be configured through the Library menu of Windows Media Player.

Figure 12.5

Figure 12.5 Configuring discovery and sharing.

Network discovery and sharing puts the essential controls in one place, instead of making users search all over the desktop for settings, and does a decent job of explaining the consequences of each option.

Using the Network Explorer

The Network Explorer is more than a convenient way to start network configuration. After you have configured your network, it displays systems that offer shared resources to your computer. Unlike its predecessor, Windows XP’s My Network Places, Network Explorer is device-oriented rather than share-oriented: Double-click a device in the main pane or click the computer node in the Navigation pane to see the shared resources offered by that device (see Figure 12.6).

Figure 12.6

Figure 12.6 Network Explorer displaying shared folders and printers.

By focusing on a single task, rather than juggling folder displays, network management, and configuration as in Windows XP’s My Network Places, Network Explorer makes exploring your network as easy as exploring your desktop.

Using the Network Map

Although many versions of Windows have displayed shared folders and printers (remember Network Neighborhood, which was apparently just down the street from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood?), until now, Windows has lacked an easy way to show you what your network looks like. To give your brain a rest (and gain useful information about your network at the same time), click the Network Map button to display a diagram of your network (see Figures 12.7 A, 12.7 B, and 12.7 C for typical examples).

In Figure 12.7 A, DEN-PC is listed but is not on the network map. In Figure 12.7 B, DEN-PC is on the network map—it is shown connected to the wireless router along with HP-PC. When displaying remote wireless clients, the network map shows the signal strength of each remote client.

How does Network Map display Ethernet (wired) clients? Figure 12.7 C shows a network map that includes two wireless and one wired client. Dashed lines indicate the connections between wireless clients and a wireless router or access point; solid lines indicate a wired connection.

Although the switch is represented as a separate device from the wireless router by Network Map, the switch may actually be incorporated into the wireless router.

Figure 12.7

Figure 12.7 Using Network Map.

Adding Windows XP-Based Systems to the Network Map

The network maps shown in Figures 12.7 A and 12.7 B show the same two-station wireless network. However, in Figure Figure 12.7 A, DEN-PC (a Windows XP computer) has been discovered but is not on the map. This map is typical of the results you will see if you have a network that includes systems running Windows Vista and older Windows versions. Systems running older Windows versions are not visible unless they are part of the same workgroup as Windows Vista. However, even when they are part of the same workgroup, they cannot be placed on the network map because they lack a protocol that is standard on Windows Vista: the Link-Layer Topology Discovery Responder (also known as the LLTD responder).

Microsoft provides an LLTD responder that can be installed on Windows XP systems. After the LLTD responder is installed, DEN-PC can be placed on the network map, as shown in Figure 12.7 B.

Accessing Network Shares from Network Map

Network Map, unlike Network Explorer, does not distinguish between clients with available shares and those that are physically present on the network but might not have available shares. To determine whether a computer listed in Network Map has available shares, hover your mouse over the computer. If the mouse pointer changes to a pointing finger, the computer has shares you can access: Double-click the computer to open Network Explorer to view and use shares. If the mouse pointer does not change when you hover it over a computer, it does not have available shares.

Network Map is a great tool for analyzing and troubleshooting networks. I wish it included information about workgroups, but even as a "first draft," it’s great to have it around. It will save you a lot of walking around!

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