The release of the Windows 7 operating system by Microsoft this past year was met with fevered excitement by millions of desktop and notebook computer users who have been complaining about the inadequacies of Windows Vista for years. With good reason, Windows 7 received almost universal praise for its simplified interface and design, as well as its improved performance and relative lack of bugs. While there are a few wrinkles to iron out, as there are with any new operating system, Windows 7 looks to be a suitable replacement for the beloved XP edition of Microsoft’s popular computing platform that has persisted in popularity even after the release of Vista.
One of the best things about 7 is the improved networking infrastructure and software. It has never been easier to configure a wireless or wired home computer network before, and here we’ll show you how to go about setting one up. Home networks allow file sharing across different interconnected devices and machines, wireless printing capability, and many other neat functions that make life easier online or off. So let’s get to it. As far as hardware, you’ll of course need a copy of Windows 7, which comes in a variety of different packages, as well as a modem and a wireless router if you don’t plan on using ethernet cables to connect your network.
Windows 7 and its home networking capabilities allow computers running different versions of Windows and even Macs to communicate and share resources. This functionality is managed through a new feature knowns as HomeGroups. To access and configure a new HomeGroup, go to the Start button in the lower left-hand corner, go to Control Panel, and then select Homegroup and Sharing Options from the Network and Internet area. Once inside you’ll want to click the “Create A HomeGroup button and you’ll be presented with a number of check boxes indicating which types of files such as documents and media that you want to share with the network.
Once you’ve decided on that and clicked next, the HomeGroup with be created and you’ll be given a highly random password you’ll want to write down, as it grants access to other computers and devices. You’ll see a button that gives you the option of printing the password generated as well as some instructions and information about the the network you’ve just created, so you may want to do that in case you forget the password or lose it. Then simply click Finish and you’re all set.
Now to connect to the newly created HomeGroup from another device or computer running Windows 7, you’ll need to go the Start button again where you’ll see Homegroup to the right directly underneath Music. Click that and a window labeled Change Homegroup Settings will pop up alerting you to the presence of another computer on the network, along with information about what type of files they are sharing. Select the Join Now button, enter the password correctly, and you’ll be connected instantly and can now access shared files and add files from your own hard drive.
In addition to simply sharing files across the network you can share printing as well by simply going to Devices and Printers on the computer you set up the HomeGroup from. Go to Devices and Printers and click the Customize Your Printer tab. In there, you’ll select the Sharing section, and then simply choose Share This Printer and you’re done. To access this shared printer from another computer, you’ll go into the same Devices and Printers folder and select Add A Printer, choosing the network printer option. That’s all there is to it, and HomeGroup will now allow either machine to print from the same printer.
The official line from Microsoft is that only computers running Windows 7 can be on the same HomeGroup, but if you go to Workgroups in XP, for example, you simply have to click “Add Group” and you shouldn’t have much of a problem connecting. One of the only irritating aspects of the HomeGroup system on Windows 7 is that not all versions of it have the same capabilities. For example, Windows 7 Starter Edition and Home Basic can’t initiate or create a HomeGroup, but they can join one. With few exceptions, setting up a new HomeGroup through Windows 7 is a painless and easy to understand process, and it can make life a lot easier for you and the rest of your household. For the most part, it’s self explanatory and you can more or less guide yourself through the setup. Aside from the ease of use and quick setup, there are many other aspects of shared libraries and HomeGroups that are attractive to Windows users that you’ll soon discover in time. Fortunately, the learning curve isn’t very steep and you’ll soon discover just how much easier Windows 7 and HomeGroups can make your computing life.