File-sharing strategies for Windows 7 and 8

Patrick Marshall

These days, it’s possible to have XP, Windows 7, and Windows 8 all running in the same household or small business.

And though Windows 7 and 8 have similar tools for sharing files over a network, there are differences that might leave you puzzled.

The basics of local-network file sharing

When setting up or troubleshooting file sharing over a home or small-business network, the first step is to make sure all computers on the network are members of the same workgroup. The exception: if you have a laptop that’s usually connected to a corporate domain and is set up as a domain member, you’re going to want to leave it that way.

The default workgroup name for Windows systems is WORKGROUP. But you can use a different name. Simply put, a PC should see all systems on the local network that have the same workgroup name. If you’re attaching a machine to a workgroup, Windows’ System Properties offers a wizard.

To manually change a system’s workgroup name, call up the System Properties dialog box (Figure 1). Click Control Panel/System. In Windows 7 and 8, click the Advanced system settings link. Select the Computer Name tab and click the Change button to enter a new workgroup name (or a new domain or computer name).

System Properties

Figure 1. System Properties offers both a wizard and a manual method for joining domains and workgroups.

Once you’ve got your computers recognizing each other in Windows/File Explorer, you’re ready to start sharing files by designating shared files and folders. But I’ll get to that in a moment.

Using homegroups for local folder/file sharing

Microsoft wants you to use Windows’ built-in homegroups to share files. They’re essentially preconfigured groupings of shared files and printers. Typically, homegroups are easy to set up, but they also have a few limitations and potential performance issues. For example, XP systems cannot join a homegroup. File transfers might be noticeably slower over a homegroup than via a standard workgroup connection.



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Patrick Marshall

About Patrick Marshall

Patrick Marshall is a regular technology columnist for The Seattle Times. He has also written for Government Computer News, InfoWorld, PC World, the Congressional Quarterly, and other publications.