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Windows 7 Networking: Using HomeGroups

Each new version of Windows made sharing resources on a home network a bit easier than the one that preceded it. Vista, for example, makes it relatively simple to share files stored in the Public Folder across a network. On the other hand, sharing standard folders — or those inside an individual user's account folder — in Vista still requires the rather cumbersome task of configuring specific folder and account permissions.

Windows 7's HomeGroup feature makes home networking a lot easier by letting you set up a simple password-protected network with other Windows 7 systems through which you can easily share printers and folders located anywhere on your system — including those that belong to individual accounts. Even better, you only need to enter the network password once, when you join the Windows 7 system to the HomeGroup.

Creating a HomeGroup in Windows 7

Whenever you connect a Windows 7 system to a new network, you're asked to specify whether the network location is Home, Work, or Public. If you choose Home — you can't use HomeGroups on Work or Public networks — Windows 7 will automatically start a wizard allowing to you create a new HomeGroup. The HomeGroup wizard will allow to share the contents of the four pre-configured Windows 7 libraries — Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos, as well as any printers attached to the system. (The Documents library — which is most likely to contain sensitive info — is the only item that isn't automatically selected by default.)

Note: For those unfamiliar, libraries in Windows 7 are basically collections of related folders that are stored in different locations. The four pre-configured libraries consist of the user's folder and the public folder — the Documents library, for example, encompasses both the user's My Documents folder and the Public Documents folder.

After you've chosen what to share with your HomeGroup, you'll be shown the HomeGroup's password; for optimal security, it's ten characters, alphanumeric and mixed-case. You'll need this password (which you can print for convenience) to join additional Windows 7 systems to the HomeGroup.

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Key Terms To Understanding HomeGroups:

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A frequent contributor to Internet.com sites, Joe Moran spent six years as an editor and analyst with Ziff-Davis Publishing and several more as a freelance product reviewer. He's also worked in technology public relations and as a corporate IT manager, and he's currently principal of Neighborhood Techs, a technology service firm in St. Petersburg, FL. He holds several industry certifications, including Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) and Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA).

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