Use Vista's Network & Sharing Center to Set Up, Troubleshoot, and Manage a Network
Configure Your Network
The Network and Sharing Center offers a single place to access, configure, and manage your home office network and network resources. You can quickly access the Network and Sharing Center by clicking the network icon in the Notification area. You can also click Start, Network, and click Network and Sharing Center in the Network window.
There are lots of things you explore in the Network and Sharing Center. [See Image 1] It’s important to know what’s available in each area, so that you know what’s available to you! There are two sections, the main window and the Tasks pane.
The Main Window
The main window is where you’ll spend most of your time. The items you’ll find there include:
Network Map – A network map is a graphical representation of the network that shows the relationship between your computer, the local network, and the Internet. Red X’s indicate a problem with the network connection.
Connected Networks – This list shows all of the connected networks. You can have more than one. For instance, you might have one connection the Internet and another to a local network.
Sharing and Discovery – This section lets you configure options related to sharing and network discovery. These settings are configured automatically based on the network type you choose when you connected (Home, Work, Public Location). However, you can override those settings here, and configure additional settings.
Network discovery is on in private networks and off in public ones.
File (folder) sharing offers settings for the shared data you’ve set up yourself. File sharing is on in private networks and off in public ones.
Public folder sharing can be turned on or off here. If you turn on Public Folder Sharing, any data you put in shared folders will be available to network users.
Printer sharing can be enabled so network users can access your shared printers.
Password protected sharing should be enabled so that users who have access to the network are required to input a user name password before accessing shared resources.
Media sharing can be enabled so others on the network can access shared media.
You also have the option to view the files and folders you are sharing and all of the shared folders on the PC.
The Tasks Pane
The Tasks Pane offers eight options ranging from viewing computers and devices to accessing settings for Windows Firewall. You’ll use these options less frequently than those in the main window, but are certainly worth noting.
View computers and devices – This opens the Network window. Here you can view computers on the network, shared media devices like an Xbox or media extender, routers, and occasionally, other devices that can’t be classified in any other category (such as a Home Server PC). [See Image 2]
Connect to a Network –This opens the Connect to a Network wizard.
Manage Wireless Networks – This opens a window that offers a list of wireless networks you are allowed to view and modify, provided you can provide the proper credentials. You can view network properties, remove networks, and move networks up and down the list. You’ll only see this on a PC that has a wireless network card installed.
Set up a connection or network – Opens the Set up a connection or network wizard. From there you have several options (you may not see all of these): [See Image 3]
Connect to the Internet - Choose this to set up a wireless, wired, or dial-up connection to the Internet. * Set up a wireless router or access point – Choose this to set up a wireless router or access point. The wizard should detect your network hardware and settings, and guide you through any remaining setup tasks
Manually connect to a wireless network – Choose this to connect to a wireless network that was not automatically found by Vista. In these cases, you’ll generally have to input security information, like a security key (passcode).
Set up a wireless ad hoc (computer to computer) network – Choose this to set up a temporary peer-to-peer network between two PCs within close range, both of which have wireless adapters. This allows for temporary transfer of data.
Set up a dial-up connection – Choose this if you want to connect using a dial-up Internet connection via a telephone line and computer modem. Most dial-up providers offer their own software though, and if that’s the case, use it instead of this.
Connect to a workplace - Choose this option if you need to create a VPN (virtual private network). Changes are you’ll never need to do this. If you ever do need to create a VPN, it’s more likely a tech support person will set it up for you, or at least give you directions. This is a more corporate networking solution.
Connect to a Bluetooth personal area network – Choose this if you need to create a temporary network between a blue-tooth capable PC and a Bluetooth-capable device. This may be a smart phone, Blackberry, or something similar.
Manage network connections – This opens the Network Connections window which lists local connections.
Diagnose and repair – This causes Windows Network Diagnostics to open and a diagnostic process to begin. Problems with networks can be diagnosed here. [See Image 4] If the troubleshooting diagnostics don’t resolve your problem, try troubleshooting with TCP/IP. Refer to the article TCP/IP for Beginners, also on BrightHub.
Internet options – Opens the Internet Properties dialog box where you can configure Internet-related properties, like security, privacy, and sharing.
Windows Firewall – Opens the Windows Firewall window where you can configure firewall properties.
Images (taken by author)
In the author’s experience, the Network and Sharing Center is a big improvement over the old Network options in Windows XP. The Network and Sharing Center offers an easy place to discover what’s wrong with a connection, what devices are connected to the network, and offers a place to create new connections quickly. The Network and Sharing Center in Windows 7 offers even more features, including the ability to create or join a homegroup.
If you have Vista on a laptop, you may be interested in this article: How to Turn Your Laptop Into a Mobile Hotspot.
The screenshots in this article were taken by the author.