Windows 7 Shared Files: Homegroups Explained

Windows 7 Shared Files: Homegroups Explained
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Shared Files and Networking in Windows 7

Each new installment of Windows over the years has made improvements to how the operating system handles networking, and Windows 7 is no exception. In fact, going from Windows XP to Windows 7 can be a very jolting experience, but in a good way. The improvements made to network are so comprehensive and sensible that Windows XP looks like a dinosaur in comparison.

But computer networking remains a tricky beast, and those who are not computer enthusiast may still find themselves occasionally baffled by the behavior of their home network. If you are having trouble with shared files on your Windows 7 network this article should help you.

Homegroup: File Sharing Made Easier

Windows 7 introduces a new networking featured called the Homegroup. The Homegroup is Microsoft’s latest attempt to find a quick-and-easy method of identifying computers on a home network and configuring how they share files.

Microsoft knows that making networking easier is important, so you’ll be asked to set up your Homegroup when you install Windows. If you need to change the settings, or you didn’t configure them at installation, you can adjust the settings by going to the Networking and Sharing center in the Windows Control Panel and opening the Homegroup settings.

Setting Up a Homegroup

All Windows 7 computers that are part of a Homegroup can be configured to have the same shared file settings. The setup screen displayed during installation is very clear and lets you select what you want share including pictures, documents, music, movies and printers. Unlike previous versions of Windows, the shared files in Windows 7 are based off the new library feature. A library is a collection of files that have the same them but are not necessarily located in the same folder. If you choose to share music, for example, your Music library will be shared among your Homegroup computers. This means you can organize your music into different folders and still easily share it with other computers.

Homegroups are password protected. The computer on which you set up the Homegroup will generate a password when you complete setup. You will have to enter this password when you attach other computers to the Homegroup. Once the password is entered the computer will automatically become part of the network and will be able to share its libraries as well.

Homegroup Security

A Homegroup is very secure. In order for anyone to access it they would first have to find their way onto your home network. Then they would have to discover your Homegroup password and enter it. This is not theoretically impossible, but it would take quite a lot of effort.

Your main security concerns should not be targeted towards outsiders but rather towards people who already have access to the Homegroup. Remember that all files in a shared library are visible. Let’s say, for example, you’re trying to plan a surprise birthday party for a family memory. Writing down party ideas in a document and then saving that to a library folder would make it possible for anyone in the family to find and open the documents. Keep this in mind.

Windows 7 Network Compatibility Issues

Windows 7 and XP Networking

Windows 7 has great networking features and is very easy to use, but there is some bad news: Windows 7 networking features are only fully compatible with Windows 7 computers. In other words, Homegroups are only going to work when they are set up between computers running Windows 7. Vista and XP do not support these features, so you’ll have to fall back on alternative networking methods.

That isn’t to say that you can’t network between different Windows operating systems. You most certainly can, but the process is a lot more involved and a bit less reliable. The difficulty of networking Vista and 7 isn’t terrible. You can’t use the Homegroup to control settings, but you Vista computers show up easily in the Network explorer view and network settings you select in Vista should apply when the computer is accessed by networked Windows 7 PCs.

XP is a different matter, and is much harder to network. However, BrightHub offers an in-depth guide that details how to perform various network actions when you are trying to network XP and Windows 7.

Windows 7 Network Troubleshooting

Windows 7 Network Troubleshooting

If everything works properly when you are networking Windows 7 computers it should prove to be as easy as pie. But everything doesn’t always work. There is always the possibility of running into an unexpected issue, and if you do run into a problem the process of troubleshooting can be difficult.

You’re not alone, however, in your plight. Some known networking issues are well documented, meaning you can implement a fix quickly should you run into the problem. We have a comprehensive three-page guide that covers everything you need to know about troubleshooting Windows 7, Vista and XP networking. This guide should answer any of your remaining questions. If you have any other troubles, however, please leave a comment.