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Windows 7 : Configuring a Peer-to-Peer Network (part 3) - Setting Up a Homegroup

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7/7/2013 9:29:16 PM

5. Setting Up a Homegroup

Windows 7 has a new networking feature called HomeGroup that can make sharing files, folders, printers, and music/video media very easy. What a homegroup does is let each user decide whether or not to share specific categories of documents, music, video, printers, and so on, or even specific folders and files. Once shared, every user on every computer in the homegroup can see the items, without worrying about passwords or usernames. It’s all just there, organized, and easy to get to.

HomeGroup networking works by setting up a password that is used to join each computer to the group. Once a computer has been made a member of the homegroup, any user on any of the member computers can see any of the group’s shared folders and printers.

Is a homegroup right for you? Consider these points to decide whether or not to use this new feature:

  • The HomeGroup feature works only with Windows 7 computers. Computers running Windows Vista, XP, Mac OS, Linux, and so on can still use folders and printers shared by computers in the homegroup if you take some additional steps. 

  • Likewise, Windows 7 computers that aren’t members of the homegroup can still access the folders and printers shared by the group’s member computers, if you take those same additional steps.

  • Within a homegroup, you can’t decide individually which other users can see your shared stuff and which users can’t. Anybody who can use a computer that’s a member of the homegroup can use the content that you decide to share.

    Note

    If you have a computer that is part of a domain network when you connect at work, you can still join it to your homegroup at home. You’ll be able to use folders and printers shared by other computers in the homegroup, but you won’t be able to share any of your computer’s folders with the group.


    What you can control is whether to share your stuff or not, and whether the other users can just view and use your stuff or modify, delete, and add to it.

If you don’t need to control access on a person-by-person basis, then a homegroup is definitely a convenient thing to set up. If a homegroup isn’t right for you, skip ahead to the next section, “Alternatives to Using a Homegroup.” (It’s easy to change your mind later on, so don’t worry too much about this.)

To set up a homegroup, log on to one of your Windows 7 computers and perform the following steps:

1.
Click Start, Control Panel, Choose Homegroup and Sharing Options (under Network and Internet).

2.
Click Create a Homegroup.

3.
Select which types of your content you want to share with everyone else in the homegroup, as shown in Figure 2. Check Pictures, Documents, Music, and/or Videos to let other users see your files. Check Printers to share your computer’s printer(s) with other computers in the homegroup. When you’ve made your selections, click Next.

Figure 2. Select the types of files you want to share with everyone else in the homegroup. This selection applies only to your own files—other users get to choose for themselves what they want to share.

4.
Windows will create the homegroup settings, and will display a password as shown in Figure 3. You might want to jot it down, as you’ll need it to join your other Windows 7 computers to the homegroup. Upper- and lowercase matter, by the way. Click Finish to complete the process.

Figure 3. The homegroup password consists of a series of letters and numbers that are case sensitive. You’ll need it when you join other computers to the homegroup. But don’t worry about losing it; Windows can display it for you later on.

5.
We suggest that you use the random homegroup password that Windows generated for you. You don’t have to worry about remembering it, because any member computer can redisplay it for you whenever you want. But if you really want to change it, you can, and now is the time. Click Change the Password, and then when the pop-up box appears, confirm by clicking Change the Password there too. Type in a new password. (Remember that any member computer can view it, so don’t use your personal password.) Click Next, then Finish.

Now, on to your other computers:

6.
You or another computer owner should go to another Windows 7 computer on your network, log on, and click Start, Control Panel, Choose Homegroup and Sharing Options, Join Now.

7.
Select the types of files that this computer user wants to share with the rest of the homegroup. (And remember, it’s easy to come back and change these selections later.) Then, click Next.

8.
Enter the homegroup password and click Next. (If you don’t have it written down, go to a computer that’s already a member, and click Start, Control Panel, Choose Homegroup and Sharing Options, View or Print the Homegroup Password.) Finally, click Finish.

Repeat steps 6 through 8 on any other Windows 7 computers that you want to join to the homegroup.

Each user on each computer will have to log on and decide which of their materials they want to share with the homegroup. Until they do, their names won’t appear in the Homegroup listing in Windows Explorer.

6. Alternatives to Using a Homegroup

HomeGroup security gives anyone in the group access to any shared folder or printer. If you need to restrict access to shared folders and printers on a user-by-user basis, or if you have computers that don’t run Windows 7, you might not want to set up a homegroup, but instead use the traditional Windows file sharing scheme. There are two ways you can configure traditional sharing:

  • If you have OSs other than Windows 7 on your network and you don’t need per-user security, you can turn off Password Protected Sharing. To do this, click Start, Control Panel, Choose Homegroup and Sharing Options (under Network and Internet), Change Advanced Sharing Settings, Turn Off Password Protected Sharing.

    This makes any shared folder or printer available to anybody who can connect to your network, with no passwords required at all.

    If you have computers running Windows XP, Vista, Mac OS, Linux or other OSs.

  • If you need to control in detail which users can use which shared files and folders, leave Password Protected Sharing turned on (which is the same as disabling Simple File Sharing on Windows XP). You will have to set up the same user accounts with the same passwords on each of your computers so that people can access shared folders and printers.


7. Wrapping Up

This completes the procedure for setting up Windows networking on one Windows 7 computer. Repeat the procedures on your other computers, and you’ll be able to start using your network.

Before you do, though, now that you have a LAN—even if it’s just a simple peer-to-peer LAN—you should be worried about network security and hackers. Why? Because you’ll certainly be connecting to the Internet, even if only intermittently, and when you do, you risk exposing your network to the entire world. These risks are not as far-fetched as you might think.

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