Top 5 Tips for Windows 8 Networking
I took the plunge and upgraded my Windows 7 laptop to Windows 8. I had little prior knowledge and, for the most part, I’ve been pleased. Certainly, there have been minor annoyances like the Start Button Fiasco that most every new Win 8 / Win 2012 user has struggled with. Getting used to the “tile” interface and the “charms” is taking a while but, there are also pluses. For example, the boot up time is amazing, it seems very stable (no blue screen or app crashes yet), and I can see where, given the right hardware, the Win 8 “metro” interface could be very powerful. Windows 8 and 2012 offer a huge range of features but, for the purposes of this article, I’d like to specifically hone in on networking in Windows 8. For this post, I put together my 5 top tips for Windows 8 networking. These are things that I have learned, new features that you may not know about, or tools that will make your life (as a Windows 8 user) easier. Here they are:
Tip #1 – Know Your Connection Status
The network is your friend. Without the network, you won’t be able to do much of anything. No web browsing, no email checking, no file sharing, etc. Whether you’re using Ethernet or Wireless, you’ll see the same network connection indicator in the system tray (bottom right). However, it’s with wireless where you’ll see differences
Figure 1: Windows 8 Wireless Network Connection Status
Windows 8 wireless connection status is new but is still pretty self-explanatory. It shows your wireless network connections that are available, which you are connected to, and whether airplane mode is on or off. What isn’t as obvious is If you right-click on the network names, you’ll be able to either connect to the wireless network or disconnect.
Tip #2 – Use New Windows 8 Networking Features
Something that isn’t as obvious in this same window is if you right-click on the wireless networks, you’ll get some wireless network configuration options, including a couple of new ones.
Figure 2: Right-Click on Networks To Configure
The settings that have been around for some time are to “Forget this network”, “turn sharing on or off” and “view connection properties”. What’s new is to “set as a metered connection” and “show estimated data usage”. The option to turn sharing on or off is one that I use when I travel or visit the local coffee shop. You don’t want to be sharing your files in public places as this creates a security risk.
Figure 3: Turning Windows 8 sharing on or off
The connection properties will take you to the traditional wireless network connection properties screen.
What is a nice is the new Windows 8 wireless networking feature to configure metered connections. Metered access is used to monitor and reduce utilization of wireless network connections that limit your bandwidth. For example, I have a Verizon Mifi device for connecting to the Internet via cellular. The rub is that the monthly bandwidth on that device is limited to 5GB. After 5GB I am charged per MB. Obviously I want to do what I can to avoid the overage charges. However, in the past that was difficult to do as there wasn’t anything I could do.
New in Windows 8 is the metered connection feature where you can specify certain wireless connections as being metered and view their data usage, from the perspective of Windows 8. For example, I clicked on “view estimated data usage”.
Figure 4: Viewing estimated data usage
As you can see, the connection that I am viewing is way over my 5GB limit but thankfully this is my local wifi connection that isn’t metered (or else I would be way over my quota). With metered networking turned on, any app that relies on an Internet connection to update or display info might be limited in the amount of data it can download or display. You might notice these and other effects:
- Windows Update will only download priority updates.
- Apps downloading from the Windows Store might be paused.
- Start screen tiles might stop updating.
- Offline files might not sync automatically.
When I am travelling and using my mifi cellular Internet, I’m thankful that Microsoft included this new metered networking connection feature in Windows 8.
Note that you can also access your wireless network configuration by going to the settings charm (move the mouse to the top right corner) and then clicking on settings.
Figure 5: Win 8 Charms
From there, you’ll see your network connection.
Figure 6: Win 8 Wireless Network Access in Settings
Tip #3 – For Small Networks, Use HomeGroup
Introduced with Windows 7, HomeGroup is a great way to share files and printers between small groups of users – at small offices or at home. It hasn’t undergone major revisions in how it works with Windows 8 but the interface that you use to configure it looks quite different and how you arrive there has changed.
To configure HomeGroup in Windows 8, go to the Settings Charm (as shown in Figure 5) and click Change PC Settings (as shows in Figure 6). From here, scroll down and click on HomeGroup to configure.
Figure 7: Configuring HomeGroup in Windows 8
From here, you can Create a HomeGroup. You’ll select what you want to be shared and you’ll configure a HomeGroup password that other devices will use to join the HomeGroup.
Tip #4 – New Network Performance Statistics
New in Windows 8, inside Task Manager, you’ll find per process network statistics.
Figure 8: Per Application / Process Network Statistics in Windows 8 Task Manager
Additionally, in Task Manager, you’ll find great new graphs on the Networking tab, as you see below.
Figure 9: New Network Statistics in Windows 8 Task Manager
These are two great new places to go in Windows 8 to keep track of what’s going on in the network.
Tip #5 - Have a Good Understanding of Networking, In General
I’ve offered a number of tips here but if you don’t have a good understanding of networking in general, you’re going to struggle to put these tips to good use. For example, what’s the difference between a static IP and a dynamic IP? Which should you be using for servers vs workstations? What’s the importance of a subnet mask? Is a default gateway always required? These things don’t change just because you change from Windows 7 to Windows 8. No matter your OS, it’s critical to have a good understanding of networking to work on a Windows Server infrastructure.
Figure 10: Windows 8 Wifi and Networking Status
For example, in the graphic above I can tell that this computer is connected to the wireless network, it’s using DHCP to obtain its IP address address, 3 DNS servers are configured, the default gateway and DNS servers are the same, and we are on a Class C subnet with the mask of 255.255.255.0.
All too often basic network configurations are forgotten and forgotten at initial configuration time or when troubleshooting. Do you know how to get to your traditional network troubleshooting tools in Windows 8 and Windows 12?