Windows 7: Understanding Network Administration and Configuration
At first glance there aren’t too many differences between configuring Windows 7 networking and configuring Windows Vista networking. However, there are important differences once you start using Windows 7. Let us find them out.
Navigation – getting to Windows 7 Network Configuration
How do you get to Windows 7 Network configuration? Just go to the Start Menu, then to Control Panel, and click on Network and Internet. You also can get to your network configuration, using the same navigation path in Windows Vista. However, when you get to the Network and Internet settings in Windows Vista, you will see a lot more options. Let us compare by starting with the Windows 7 Network and Internet window (shown in Figure 1, below).
Figure 1: Windows 7 Network and Internet Configuration
As you can see this new Windows 7 configuration window offers you a few new choices and a few old choices but, overall, not a lot of choices to choose from. We are used to seeing both the Network and Sharing Center and the Internet Options but the HomeGroup is new. I will come back to HomeGroup and the new and improved Network and Sharing Center in Windows 7, below.
Now let us compare what we saw in Windows 7 to the Network and Internet configuration in Windows Vista, shown in Figure 2, below:
Figure 2: Windows Vista Network and Internet Configuration
The first thing you notice is that there are tons of options to choose from in Vista. However, I do not think that this is such a good thing as some of these seem much less important than others. For example, I don’t think that the Windows Firewall or Offline Files deserve their own section here (these are removed in Windows 7).
Windows 7 Network and Sharing Center
99% of the time, in Windows 7 or Vista, to configure networking, you are going to click on the Network and Sharing Center. It offers the most functionality and the most common tasks that a Windows Vista or 7 Administrator would perform. So, let us look at how the Network and Sharing Center differs between these two operating systems.
First, here is the Network and Sharing Center from Windows Vista that most of us are familiar with:
Figure 3: Windows Vista Network and Sharing Center
Now, let us compare that to Windows 7’s Network and Sharing Center, below in Figure 4.
Figure 4: Windows 7 Network and Sharing Center
One of the big differences is caused by these two computers being different. The Vista computer has many more network adaptors as compared to the Windows 7 computer. That aside, as you can see, the Windows 7 computer actually has many fewer options than the Vista computer. Options have been removed from the left navigation and the Sharing and Discovery options have been removed from the main window. These options have just been moved to other sections.
The Network and Sharing options have been moved to the Choose homegroup and sharing options window (which we will look at in a minute). The left navigation options shown on the Vista computer have just been moved to the level above this, Network and Internet.
What I like about the new Windows 7 Network and Sharing center is that the less related options have been moved off to reduce the clutter on the page. There are two things that I do not care for, concerning the changes with the Network and Sharing center:
- Why did they remove the Sharing and Discovery options from this page? I mean, it is not that what the Network and Sharing center should have – sharing and discovery options?
- Also, I have never cared for how in Vista or Windows 7 there are no technical networking details on the network and sharing center page. I should be able to see if I have an IP address here. I should be able to see if it is 169.254.xxx.xxx automatic (useless) IP address or if it is a real IP address. I would think that they would have added / improved this in Windows 7.
What about Windows 7 Homegroup?
Above, I mentioned Windows 7 homegroup. What is this? Well, this is new in Windows 7. A homegroup is a simple way to link computers on your home network together so that they can share pictures, music, videos, documents, and printers. There is just a single password that is used to access the homegroup, making creating it and connecting to it easy.
If you click on Choose Homegroup and Sharing Options from the Network and Sharing Center in Windows 7, you will see this window (assuming your network location is not Home):
Figure 5: Homegroup and sharing options in Windows 7
If you change your network location to Home, you will see the option to create a homegroup. Or if you come to the Choose Homegroup and sharing options page when your network location is set to home, then you can choose Create now and create your new homegroup.
Figure 6: Creating a Windows 7 Homegroup
You will be able to select what you want to share in the homegroup.
Figure 7: Viewing the Windows 7 Password to connect to the homegroup
And you will be given a single password, used on other computers, to connect to the homegroup.
When you are done, the Homegroup and Sharing center will look something like this:
Figure 8: Windows 7 Homegroup configured
Fix a network problem
My favorite change to Windows 7 networking is the update to Vista’s diagnose and repair. In Windows 7 if you want to get assistance fixing a network issue, you just click Fix a network problem. Sound simple and clear, right? That’s what I like about it.
From Windows 7 Network and Sharing, if you click Fix a Network Problem, you get this window, asking you want you want to fix:
Figure 9: Fixing a Network Problem
Windows 7 will go through and attempt to fix any network issues that you select. It will even ask you if you want to fix it as a Windows Administrator. Here is what fixing a homegroup looks like:
Figure 10: Fixing a network problem
Overall, I like the changes to Windows 7 networking GUI administration tools. The simplification of the interface is nice, as are the “fix a network problem tool” and the new homegroup features. I encourage you to take a look at these Windows 7 networking changes yourself.