Windows 7/Vista Home Networking Setup and Options

Thursday Jul 28th 2011 by Vangie Beal
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Not everyone has upgraded to Windows 7; some home networks still rely on XP and even Vista. We look at the steps you need to take to setup networking in both Vista and Windows 7.

Working at Home

If you're used to home networking using Windows XP-based computers, then you're probably familiar with basic tasks such as connecting the PCs to the network and configuring file sharing. If you're planning to upgrade or switch to Windows Vista or to Windows 7, rest assured the process doesn't change too drastically. The hardest part for most people is figuring out where the menus for the networking and file-sharing options are hidden within the layers of the newer operating systems.

Our Home Network Hardware and Systems

The network hardware used for this article, for people interested in such things, includes a Xincom (HC-0PG402) Twin Wan Router, D-Link 10/100 Ethernet switch, 3Com 3C17203 Switch, Motorola 5B5100 Cable Modem. We primarily connect the three PCs to the network and also use a D-Link AirPlus G - 2.4Ghz Wireless Access Point for connecting both a Windows XP-based notebook (that is not being upgraded) as well as a G4 Powerbook that is occasionally plugged in to the network as well. The upgrade was from Windows XP Home Service Pack 2 to Windows Vista Home Premium.

Getting Started

If you want to move network and other operating system settings (along with your data files) from systems running Windows XP to ones running Vista or Windows 7, you should consider using Microsoft's Windows Easy Transfer. This handy little tool, if used correctly, it will back up all your important XP data. During our test of using Windows Easy Transfer on three PCs, it also saved our XP workgroup and file sharing information. This goes a long way in getting your workgroups and file sharing configured in Windows Vista and Windows 7, particularly if you don't plan on making many changes to networking and sharing settings.

If you went for a clean install and are ready to get started with getting your computer's network settings correctly configured, you’ll first need to visit Vista/7's 'Network & Sharing Center'. The hardest part of using the new Network & Sharing Center is figuring out where the options are located to set up your networked PCs and devices. Quite often you will have to work your way through several layers of menus to find the options you want. In XP the options are usually only a click or two away. If you're too impatient to look around, here are the step-by step instructions to getting the PCs on your network communicating under Windows Vista and Windows 7.

Setting up Your Workgroup

The first thing you'll want to do is ensure that your PCs all have the same Workgroup name. If you kept the default from Windows XP, your workgroup is called MSHOME. In Vista/7, the default is WORKGROUP. If you want to view and edit the computer details on each PC to rename your workgroup, click the Start button, right-click Computer, select Properties, and then click the Change settings link under Computer name, domain, and workgroup settings. This will bring up the Computer Name tab. Here you can name your PC (this is what it will be called on the network) and also change your workgroup name to something more meaningful—be sure to use the exact same workgroup name for each PC that will be on your network.

Once you have successfully changed your Workgroup name on all PCs, you can then access a network map from within Vista/7’’s Network & Sharing Center. Click the Start Button, choose "Control Panel", select "Network & Sharing Center", and finally, click the "View full Map" at the upper right (in Windows 7, it’s “See full map”) to see all the systems and devices on your network.

In this view you may notice an area at the bottom of the screen that shows devices that cannot be placed on the map. You can still access the devices, but there are some key reasons as to why some PCs or devices may not show in the map view, the main reason being that support is not available for the required protocol.

  • Computers running Windows XP that cannot be detected probably do not have the Link Layer Topology Discovery (LLTD) protocol installed on the machine. You can download the Link Layer Topology Discovery Responder from the Microsoft website to install on Windows XP PCs.
  • Another possible reason why you might not see all devices under Windows Vista could be because the Link Layer Topology Discovery (LLTD) protocol is disabled on the network adapter, or is not supported by the network adapter itself (a very likely culprit).

Managing Your Home Network Settings

After configuring your workgroup and computer names, it's time to manage the settings for your network adapter. Again if you've used a Vista Upgrade or the Windows Easy Transfer your network adapter settings should already be correct. If not, then you go back to the Network & Sharing Center in Vista or Windows 7 and choose Manage Network Connections (Vista) or Change adapter settings (Win 7) which will bring up your network connection icons.

From here you simply right click on the adapter, choose Properties, and you will find yourself in the more familiar "Connection Properties" window. If you see multiple network adapters listed, be sure to click on the appropriate one. For example, if you’re using a wireless connection, right-click the that icon rather than the one for Local Area Connection, which refers to the wired network adapter.

For most home networks, you're going to need to select the Internet Protocol 4 (TCP/IPv4). Highlight the protocol and choose Properties. If you use a dynamic IP address, you will select Obtain IP address Automatically and Obtain DNS Server Address. If you have a static IP address, click the radio button for Use the Following IP Address and enter in the IP Address, Subnet Mask, and Default Gateway. You will also need to enter in your DNS server addresses as well.

NOTE: Internet protocol 6 (TCP/IPv6) is also available in Windows Vista/7. Computers that use both IPv4 and IPv6 might encounter a rare problem where it cannot resolve names and connect to Internet resources. This happens due to incorrectly configured DNS servers and you need to contact your ISP if this occurs.

TIP: You'll find information on configuring IPV6 on Microsoft's website.

Network Location Choices

In Windows Vista you have two options for Network Location: Public and Private. In Windows 7 you get three --Home, Work and Public. You must choose the Network Location the first time you connect your PC to the network. The network location is what determines your Windows firewall settings.

  • Public: If you're connecting to a network in a public place, for example a coffee shop or airport, you'll choose a Public location type. Choosing Public will limit discovery of other computers and is designed to keep your computer from being visible to others on the network. Public offers the most security.
  • Home/Work/Private: This is the appropriate option for any home or office network, as it will automatically configure the firewall settings to allow for communication between devices.

At this point, your Vista/7-based PCs should now be connected to your home Ethernet network, and visible to Windows XP systems as well. From Vista’s Network & Sharing Center, you can now configure individual  Sharing & Discovery settings that pertain to file, folder, printer, and media sharing (provided you specified a Private network location—if you chose Public, most of these will be locked down by default).

In Windows 7, you have an additional option to set up a HomeGroup (under choose homegroup and sharing options), which enables quick and easy sharing of documents, music, pictures, and more -- alas, between Windows 7 systems only. Just enter in the common 10-character password on all of your Windows 7 systems, and the data types you specified will be automatically shared without any further configuration needed. If you do want to tweak individual sharing settings a la Vista, use the Change advanced sharing settings option.

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