Random Access   chris, kp & rob
In The Lab
Networking with Windows Vista
by chris

Networking under different operating systems has pretty much the same requirements both in hardware connections and in the network settings you need to communicate. Wired networking is generally easier to configure and troubleshoot, let's start there.

First, you must have some sort of network adapter; for most computers, this is going to be an internal connection to the computer (almost every system board and notebook now includes an integrated network adapter for a wired connection). If your system does not have an integrated network adapter, then you may be able to add an expansion card if it's a desktop, a PC-Card if it's a notebook, or something like a USB adapter if the other choices are not available.

You will need a network cable to connect your computers together or to an appropriate network device such as a network switch or router. If you are just going to connect two computers together, you can use what is called a "crossover" cable that crosses the connections between one computer's transmit wires to the other computer's receive wires. If you have two or more computers to connect, you will require a network hub or switch, and use straight-through network patch cables. If you want all of your systems to be able to share a connection to a cable modem or DSL modem for access to the Internet, then you will also need a router. Many network routers also include a built-in switch feature to let you connect several computers to the local side of the device. If all of this sounds familiar, it could be because I covered it before. We have an Understanding Tech article on Wired LANs that is helpful for working through this portion of the process.

When it comes to the software side of networking, I may get a little vague, only because each operating system is slightly different, and your particular configuration could have settings or features that are specific to the environment you are working in. Some schools and businesses may have special equipment or ways of connecting things that will not be covered in my overview. For example, your company might have special security enabled "smart switches" that watch for another switch, hub, or router being attached to the network; if detected, the switch can be programmed to immediately disable that network connection on the switch. The result is that your local switch might work to allow your systems to talk to each other, but none of them will be able to communicate to the rest of the network. Although you may receive software applications with your motherboard or adapter, the settings required for network communication are usually part of the operating system itself. For two pieces of equipment to be able to communicate over a network connection, they will both need to use the same protocol. Nowadays, this means the TCP/IP or Internet Protocol; while other protocols may still be in use, they tend to be only for certain networks or specialized equipment. If you want to browse web pages, visit chat rooms, send and receive email, and generally "surf the web," you need the TCP/IP protocol "bound" to the adapter.

TCP/IP uses a logical address that is associated with the unique MAC address of the adapter. The IP address can either be manually configured in your network properties, or be assigned automatically by a DHCP server that is on the network. Windows adds a third method for the IP address assignment, and that is an "Automatic private IP address" that Windows creates if the properties are configured to obtain one, but fail after a specific time delay. If you are connecting two computers together with a crossover cable, you may want to manually assign two similar (but not identical) IP addresses rather than let Windows make them up. A standard feature of most routers is to provide DHCP services to assign a unique IP address to each device as it is detected on the network. This helps prevent conflicts from having two adapters using the exact same address.

As I mentioned before, we have several different articles, demos, and handouts that cover this aspect of networking. Check out Understanding Tech for these and other useful materials.

Windows Vista Networking Features:
If you have a good cable connection, and you have an appropriate IP address either configured or assigned in Vista, you should see a list of computers when you open "Network" from the start menu. Vista uses a service called "Network Discovery and File Sharing" which may be turned off on a new computer. If this is the case when you open "Network" from the start menu, Vista should prompt to start the service.

Network Discovery
Network Discovery Prompt

Discovered Systems
An icon view of systems "discovered" on the network.

When you double-click one of the systems in the discovery window, Vista should prompt you for a login. How the access to the remote system that is sharing resources on the network was made will determine what you need to enter. If access is restricted to specific users, your login name must be one that was created on the remote system, and you must use the password associated with it. If you enter a user name that does not exist on the remote computer, then access is limited to whatever is available to the "everyone" group.

Remote Connect
If you have a user name and password on the
remote system, enter these in the login box

Network access to resources can be restricted to specific names that have been added to the computer's list of users. Access can also be assigned to groups of users, or to standard system groups such as "everyone," "administrators," or "users." These names and groups must exist on the system sharing the folder, printer, or other resource. Under Windows XP, simple file sharing is active by default. This gives you just two choices: 1) Share the folder on the network (read-only) and 2) Allow network users to change your files (read-write). In this case, "network users" is the "everyone" group.

User Names
A typical list of users and group names under XP.

Everyone Shares
Items that appear in the remote system view are limited to resources available
to the specific network user or public shares available to "everyone"

If the remote system has any unrestricted shares, you will be able to access it using the name of your local computer, your user name, or even generic words like "anonymous." One trick I mention in network security is creating shares with a dollar sign "$" at the end. This creates what is called a system share, which you can access if you know the name; it will not appear in the list of resources when browsing the system. You can access the hidden resources by typing the shared name in the address line or when you "map a drive."

To map a network folder to a local drive letter, right click on "Computer" or "Network" and select "Map network drive." Enter the server name followed by the share name using two backslash characters before the server name, and one backslash before the share. In the screenshots displayed here, the computer name is "HOPC0177," if I have a system share to the download folder called "download$" then the map drive path would be "\\HOPC0177\download$" Note: Vista and XP are generally not case sensitive when it comes to system and share names, but if you are trying to connect to a non-Windows system, the exact character case can make a difference.

System Shares
System shares may be available to everyone, but you have to
know the name to enter it on the address line.

If you cannot find the system name by browsing the network, do what I usually do and use the IP address. I find that the system names are not always available, either because of filters on the network, firewall settings or some other setting in network properties that supports that particular feature. If you know the IP of the remote system, use this instead of the friendly name.

Using IP To Map A Drive
Using the remote IP address when mapping a drive.

Windows Vista expands on the simple file sharing options and the Sharing Wizard steps you through the process.

  1. Start by browsing your computer drive to locate the folder you want to share. Right click on the folder and select "Share."

    Share a Folder

  2. Select the users that will have access to your files; the current user (you) automatically appears in the list. (XP assumes you want to share with everyone, Vista makes you choose.) Click the drop down box to select from the users or groups available on the computer. If you want anybody on the network to be able to see the files, choose "Everyone." You have the option of adding users from this same screen. This is the same process as adding users in the control panel, and all users you create will appear in the Welcome screen.

    Add Everyone

  3. Once you have selected additional Users or Groups, they should appear in the access list. To the right of each user is a column labeled "Permission Level". You can control the access that a single user or group has to your files by selecting from the list of options. In this example, we will give everyone "Reader" access, meaning they can browse and view anything in the folder, but not change or delete my files. As "Owner" I can modify files remotely as long as I connect using my user name and system password. After all of the users and their permissions have been added, click "Share". If there are no issues, a new share will be created; click "Done" to close the wizard.

    Set Everyone Permissions

You can access Network properties by right-clicking on "Network" in the Vista Start menu.

Network Properties

This opens the Network and Sharing Center window.

Network Sharing Center
In the left-hand task pane, you can diagnose network connectivity problems, check settings, and perform other network related tasks. Vista displays an icon view of your current network status, showing the local system, the network domain name (if known) and if there is a connection to the Internet.


If there is a communication issue at any point, the image will reflect which connections are available. If I disconnect the local cable connection, the diagram changes to show that there is a problem. Clicking on the Diagnose and repair selection causes Vista to try some basic tests like resetting the local network adapter. If that fails, it may display some useful suggestions such as "Plug the cable in..."

Repair Solution

Depending on the type of network environment you specified (work network, public network, etc.) Vista will make changes to the firewall settings when you create a shared resource. (If you are on a public network, you don't generally want file sharing enabled, or to allow everyone access to your files.) If others are having difficulty connecting to your shared folder on a home or trusted work network, one thing you can test is to temporarily disable the Vista Firewall. Be aware that the reason for doing this is to check if it is your firewall settings that are preventing access by others, and not some other cause.
You can access the Vista Firewall settings from the Control Panel; double click on the "Windows Firewall" icon to open the settings window. The firewall should be turned on. Click "Change settings" to open the window where you can turn the firewall off. If this has no effect on their ability to connect to your computer, then the firewall is probably not the issue.

Firewall On

Firewall Off

Determine the IP address of your Vista computer:
You can still open a command window under Vista and type "IPCONFIG /ALL" to launch the configuration program and get a list of your adapter settings.
To identify the MAC and IP address from inside Windows, double click the "Network Connections" icon in the control panel. Right Click on the "Local Area Connection" and select "Status."

Adapter Status

In the status window, click the "Details" button to display the settings for that specific adapter.

Connection Status

Status Detail

With the IP address known, one thing you can try is to use the IP address in place of the computer name when trying to connect to the remote computer.

Get Random Access

Understanding Tech

Print this article

Shop Online


Your Name:

Your Email:

Your Friend's Name:

Your Friend's Email:

 © Micro Center