Networking / Beginners

Peer-to-Peer Networking with Microsoft Windows

As mentioned, Windows for Workgroups was the original "do-it-yourself" network for Intel-compatible personal computers. It was designed around Microsoft's MS-DOS OS and Windows shell. A number of different versions of Windows have come and gone; we've seen Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me) for the home user, and Windows NT and Windows 2000 for business network users. The most widely used version of Windows, Windows XP, comes in two versions: Home and Professional.1

1 Windows Vista is Microsoft's latest OS product that I've mentioned several times thus far. To date, it hasn't cornered the market and has met with increasing skeptics, including me. Thus, we concentrate on Windows XP.

The Home version is designed for the home or small office user who will work in a Microsoft workgroup (meaning a peer-to-peer network). Windows XP Professional provides additional features and is designed to serve as a client on a server-based network. Don't buy the Home edition if you're going to implement a client/server network.

Microsoft's peer-to-peer networking products are based on the idea of a workgroup, or a set of computers that belong to a common group and share resources among themselves. Microsoft peer-to-peer networking is quite versatile and can include computers running any version of Microsoft Windows.

Additionally, on a given physical network, multiple workgroups can coexist. For example, if you have three salespeople, they can all be members of the SALES workgroup; the members of your accounting department can be members of the ACCOUNTS workgroup. Of course, there's a common administrative user with accounts on all machines in all workgroups, so central administration is possible to a limited extent, but it isn't an efficient administrative solution.

Windows peer-to-peer networking is straightforward. Computers running Windows XP (or earlier versions of Windows) are configured so that they're in the same workgroup. You can do this in the Windows XP Computer Name Changes dialog box, which is reached via the System's Properties dialog box. (Right-click on My Computer and select Properties.)

The alternative to configuring the workgroup manually is to use the Network Setup Wizard.

The wizard walks you through the steps of configuring the workgroup and can even generate a file that you can use to add other Windows computers to the workgroup- even computers running earlier versions of Windows. You start the wizard via the Windows Control Panel. Select the Network and Internet Connection icon in the Control Panel, and then select Set Up or Change Your Home or Small Office Network. The wizard screen that allows you to select a connection method.

After the workgroup is up and running, any user in the workgroup can browse the workgroup for shared folders and printers. You can map folders that users access regularly to a member computer as a network drive. Workgroup members can view workgroup computers and their shared resources using the My Network Places window.

Workgroups are fine when users can collaborate in a friendly atmosphere and are computer savvy enough to ensure that important data is used appropriately (and backed up). Because each resource (such as folders) can require a separate password, any more than a few users can create an environment of confusion. If your company has more than 10 users or the company's automated resources are valuable and sensitive, you should examine the option of deploying a server running a NOS, which is our next topic.

Remember That Peer-to-Peer Networks Permit Sharing of Resources

For resources to be available for a workgroup, such as folders and printers, each user must share the folders and the printers of the workgroup. As just described, Windows makes it easy to set up workgroups. In addition, workgroups are easy to administer because each user manages the resources that they offer to the workgroup. However, they do pose problems in terms of protecting the shared resources.

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