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Building Your Own Network

If you have two or more computers and you don't already have a network, you need one-it's about that simple. A network offers many advantages, including:

  • The ability to share a single Internet connection; this is an especially big win if you use a broadband DSL or cable Internet service.
  • Sharing of files and printers, so that you can get at your data and use any of your printers from any of your computers.
  • The ability to quickly transfer files from one computer to another; this can help you move from an old to a new computer, and can also serve as the basis of a simple but effective backup scheme.

In this tutorial, we'll discuss how to construct and configure a network based on Windows XP. In addition, we'll show you how to add computers, adapters, and network services to an existing network.

Modern network hardware is a snap to install and set up. It's not expensive either-if you have only a few Windows computers, you can construct a network for as little as $25 per computer. All it takes is a bit of planning, and some careful shopping.

NOTE Use Internet Connection Sharing to let a single dial-up or broadband connection serve all of the computers on your LAN. It also shows how to share a connection with a small hardware device called a connection sharing router. There are many of these devices on the market today, most designed to share a broadband connection, although some work with an analog or ISDN modem to share a dial-up connection. If you want to use a shared Internet connection.

The first decision you have to make is what kind of network to install. There are three types of Windows XP networks: the Workgroup network, which provides basic services for the home or small office; the Domain network, which is better suited for larger or spread-out organizations; and the Active Directory network, which is used in large enterprises and which allows very detailed control and delegation of management responsibilities.

If you decide that you need a Domain or Active Directory type network, you'll need to install Windows 2003 Server, 2000 Server, or NT Server. These Server operating systems are complex, so we can't go into the details of building this sort of network. Later in the tutorial, though, we will show you how to configure Windows XP Professional if you are adding it to an existing Domain or Active Directory network.

NOTE In a corporate environment, you probably won't have to handle network setup yourself at all-your IT department will likely take care of all of this for you. In fact, on a tightly secured network, you might not even be able to view or change any of the network settings or control panels described in this tutorial.

However, if you want to build a Workgroup-type network for your home or office, read on. In this tutorial, we'll show how to install and configure a network of two to ten computers.