The Expert’s Guide To Windows Networking (Part 3)

12/20/2012 9:27:30 AM

It’s worth taking a little time to consider what you want to share over your network and how it can be segregated on the storage your server or PC has. Shares can be nested, so you might password-protect an entire documents folder, but then guest-share a single folder within that for public access, for example, to a photographs' folder.

Once in place we think this old school sharing is more straightforward than the contrived Homegroups with its unnecessary pins and additional interfaces. Having said that, this does work best with a central server to which each networked PC does its sharing. In this case it means just the one server has to be administered, though even this can be simplified by reusing a single account for access.

PC Format has in the past covered versatile ways of building your own handy-dandy home server using the great-value HP ProLiant MicroServer or even making your own from an old laptop - solutions that don't cost much more than $320 including hard drives. You could, of course, use a NAS but these don't cost much less than a full server solution, which are never as flexible.

No matter what your approach, sharing files over your network will only make your life easier. Not only does it offer an easy way to share files everyone wants access to, but it opens up easy routes for backing up, streaming media, providing cloud storage and centralised mass storage that's machine independent.

We’re the management

1.    Advanced settings

Right click the Notification Network icon, select Open Network and Sharing Center. Click the ‘Change advanced sharing settings'. The quick list is: discovery on, sharing on, public off, media, 128-bit encryption, passwords off, Use user accounts.

1. Advanced settings

2.    The console

We'll use the Computer Management Console a lot. Right click the Start Menu, Computer entry and select 'Manage'. Open the Local Users and Groups section and select 'Users'. We'll be taking a look at Groups, as well as the Shared Folders section too.

3.    Adding a user

To create a new User account is straightforward. Right click a blank area of the Users main display and select ‘New User...' The User name needs to match the account name of the remote PC. You're able to give it a friendly name and the all-important password.

3. Adding a user

4.    Create a Group

You're able to apply access by the same groups of users by creating groups and adding the users you want to this. Select 'Groups' and right-click and select 'New group...’ Choose a name and click the 'Add...' button to begin adding the users you want to the new group.

4. Create a Group

5.    Adding Users

We'll see this stupid dialog again. Click 'Advanced' and then 'Find Now'. This actually displays the list of Users you can add. If you like, select 'Object Types' and deselect 'Built-in security principles' to simplify the list. Select as many as relevant and click 'OK'.

5. Adding Users

6.    Check your Shares

Finally, take a nose at the Shared Folders group. It’s worth clicking the 'Shares' entry as this lists all the folders and drives that are set as being shared on the system. By default, a number exist already, and these are system shares for the default user only.

To the cloud!

An interesting possibility with shared folders is to combine them with Dropbox, Box or a similar internet-storage service. Ideally run with a home server, this provides a universal cloud system with files available to everyone at home, but also synchronised to any other devices that are running the storage service. Of course this will be limited by the capacity of the service. Dropbox offers between 2GB and 18GB for free, Box offers 5GB and Microsoft SkyDrive give you 7GB. All of these can be expanded if you pay a monthly fee and it provides an interesting easy and secure way to keep files available to everyone, everywhere.

Along a similar line is using a shared folder for back-up and synchronising. We recommend a cool program called Syncback from 2brightsparks.com. Fully functioning free and paid-for versions are available and it works in multiple ways. The first is a straight back-up regime to copy modified files to a remote shared folder. The other is synchronise mode where it will keep the files on your system and a remote folder in sync. Enabling you to work locally on documents and have them automatically updated on a remote folder so others can access them as well.


Cloud storage services, such as Dropbox offer another folder sharing option for a home network and across devices

Device sharing

What we're playing with today extends beyond just your standard Windows systems good news we think to almost all other devices that can join a network. So if you have an Apple iPhone or iPad, an Android device and even Mac and Linux desktops you're in luck, as they'll all play nicely together.

The reason these all work together like it's some sort of hippy commune goes back to the NetBIOS days, and the need to connect DOS PCs to other devices over a network. To get everyone holding hands and singing songs, project Samba was created. If you recognise that name, it's because Samba exists today, all over the place, as it's an open source system for networking.

Samba enables you to connect almost any device to a networked Windows system, using either Guest access or one of your pre-defined password protected User accounts. Unfortunately, the Samba part of apps and the like can be implemented in many different ways. By that we mean in terrible ways. Usually the easiest way to connect is by using the Windows IP address of the PC.

If you have a server you might want to set it to a permanent IP address via your router’s DCHP settings.

Well-designed apps will provide the NetBIOS name for the PC in a handy list of networked systems, but not always. This is also worth mentioning as many NAS devices also run an implementation of Samba - via their BSD-based OS to enable them to connect over the Windows network too. Hence they're also able to provide similar User/Group structures and access restrictions.

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