What Was Old Is New Again
All of the networking functionality you’re familiar with from Windows 7 is present in Windows 8, though some of these interfaces have been updated to accommodate the new Metro environment that sits at the core of this new OS. Features that carry forward to Windows 8 include the following:
• HomeGroup sharing: In addition to older, traditional network‑based resource sharing techniques from previous versions of Windows, Windows 7 added a simple new scheme called HomeGroup sharing. This makes it easy to share digital media content, documents, and printers on a home network. Because of the move to Microsoft account‑based sign‑ins in Windows 8, HomeGroup sharing is more important than ever in this release, so we explore this topic in more detail later in the chapter.
• Network and Sharing Center: This complex interface provides a single place to go to view, configure, and troubleshoot networking issues, and access new and improved tools. It’s still there, virtually unchanged in Windows 8. If you’re lucky, you will never need to use it.
If you’re unlucky, you can access Network and Sharing Center via Start Search. Or, right‑click the Network notification icon in the Notification Area and choose Network and Sharing Center from the pop‑up menu that appears.
The Network and Sharing interface also includes a feature called Network Map that visually shows how your PC is connected to the Internet and other devices, an issue that is particularly important to understand when troubleshooting.
• Seamless network connections: In Windows XP, unconnected wired and wireless network connections would leave ugly red icons in your system tray, and creating new connections was confusing and painful. Now Windows connects to secure networks automatically. Windows will also automatically disable networking hardware that isn’t in use, a boon for mobile computer users on‑the‑go who want to preserve battery life.
The interface for managing wireless networks is now a Metro experience. Since it’s new, we’ll discuss that in the next section.
• Network explorer: The old My Network Places explorer from previous versions of Windows has been replaced and upgraded significantly with the new Network explorer. This handy interface supports access to all of the computers, devices, and printers found on your connected networks, instead of just showing network shares, as XP did. You can even access network‑connected media players, video game consoles, and other connected device types from this interface.
• Network locations: Windows 7 featured a Set Network Location wizard that would appear whenever you connected to a new wired or wireless network for the first time. This wizard let you set multiple complex network characteristics under the hood by providing a simple list of choices for the type of network you were connecting to: Home, Work, or Public. Home and Work were essentially the same, in that both opened up sharing between your PC and other PCs and devices on the network. Public, meanwhile, was for public network connection, like the Wi‑Fi connections you might run into at cafés, airports, and similar locations.
In Windows 8, network location is handled differently and, believe it or not, it’s even easier than before. Now, there are only two states, and instead of forcing the user to think about the network type, you choose between whether you want to share or connect to devices. We explain this functionality and how to configure it on a per‑connection basis in the next section.
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