Get to know Windows 7's home networking features

Windows 7 is packed with features that make home networking easier and more fun than before. Here's how to get started with file sharing, media streaming, and more.

Networking isn't just for business anymore--these days, home networks are the norm. With Windows 7, Microsoft has made networking home PCs and sharing their files and folders much simpler. Whether you need to connect to the network, to share printers and resources, to access and play music, or to do anything else across the network, Windows 7 makes the entire process more seamless and intuitive than it was in either Windows Vista or Windows XP.

Managing Network Connections

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In Windows 7, Microsoft has improved the Network and Sharing Center (introduced in Windows Vista) to provide greater functionality and make it the go-to place for managing all aspects of network connectivity.

The Network and Sharing Center--which is available in the Windows 7 Starter, Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate editions--allows you to find new networks and create new network connections, verify connection status, and troubleshoot network connectivity issues.

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At the top is a visual representation of the current connection; you'll also find a link that displays the full map of your network, visually. If you lose your connection, the graphic will show the broken connection so that you can easily identify which portion is down.

You can click Troubleshoot problems at the bottom of the Network and Sharing Center to initiate diagnostic tests that will help you identify and resolve the issue. You can also establish new wireless-network or VPN connections by clicking Set up a new connection or network and following the prompts in the wizard.

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The left side of the Network and Sharing Center provides links to more-advanced networking functions such as changing adapter settings or managing the Windows Firewall. One significant enhancement in Windows 7 gives you the ability to configure unique firewall profiles for the different location types (Home, Work, and Public); as you move from one location to another, Windows 7 will automatically apply the firewall rules for the appropriate location type.

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