Windows XP Home makes it simple to connect your computers and share a single Internet connection between them all. We walk you through the steps required to set up a home network.
The Networking Wizard
Thanks to Windows XP, these days the hardest step in configuring a network is the physical installation of the network cards and cables. Most new computers will come with a network card installed, but if you lack the confidence to install a card in an older computer then get a tech-savvy friend or the local computer shop to do it for you.
Before configuring the network with the Network Setup Wizard, log into Windows XP using an administrator account. Make sure that all other computers are turned on as well as any peripheral devices, such as printers and scanners. Your Internet connection will also be shared over the network so dial into your ISP before running the Network Setup Wizard.
To open the Network Setup Wizard select My Network Places from the Start Menu and click Set up a home or small office network in the Network Tasks box. The first few steps deal with your Internet connection and setting up Internet Connection Sharing. The latter was introduced with Windows 98 SE and provides a simple way for networked computers to use a single network connection. You will need to specify whether the computer connects to the Internet directly or if the connection comes through another computer.
You will then have to enter a computer name and workgroup name, which is used to identify your computer on the network. Once the wizard has collected the information it will display a summary before applying the settings. The Internet Connection Firewall will be enabled by default and there is no reason to disable it. This firewall provides a barrier that only allows authorised data to pass through from the Internet, essentially keeping hackers and other unwanted nasties at bay.
Configuring other computers on your network
Configuring networks in older versions of Windows was a lot more difficult than it is with Windows XP. You can use the Windows XP CD to set up networking on computers that use Windows 98 or Windows Me.
Insert the Windows XP CD and on the menu that appears click Perform Additional Tasks. On the next menu click Set up home or small office networking. This will bring up the same Network Setup Wizard that is used in Windows XP.
Alternatively, you can create a floppy disk during the Network Setup Wizard that can be used in the same way as the Windows XP CD. When the ‘You’re almost done…’ screen appears in the wizard, simply insert a floppy disk, select the Create a Network Setup Disk option and click Next.
If the Windows 98/Me computer will be the one sharing the Internet connection, then run the Network Setup Wizard on this computer first. Also, be sure to disable any Internet Connection Sharing features that you may have previously configured.
Now all that is left to do is to specify which folders, files and printers will be available on the network. To do this, right-click the item, select the Sharing option and enable the appropriate settings.
A common home networking problem is the use of different workgroup names. When setting up a network, ensure that you are using the same workgroup name and not just accepting the default name. It is fine to use the default name — just be sure that you use it on the other computers, too!
Specific network settings and protocols can be configured by right-clicking Network connection in the Control Panel and selecting Properties. Use the TCP/IP protocol for File and Printer Sharing on all computers and remove all protocols that aren’t required. Despite common belief, NetBEUI is not a required protocol.
If you have multiple protocols, un-bind File and Printer Sharing from all but one. Using more than one protocol can make networking with XP unreliable.
Be aware that Windows XP Home does not provide all the same networking features as Windows XP Professional. Some of the notable differences between the two versions are:
- Windows XP Professional supports up to 10 simultaneous file sharing connections; Windows XP Home supports only five;
- Windows XP Professional adds levels of access to shared files and folders beyond the basic access supported by Windows XP Home; and
- Windows XP Professional supports domains for enhanced management and even more security.