Windows Vista : Share Files and Printers (part 1) - Share a Folder

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In Windows Vista, this is a two-step process. First, you share a folder on one PC, and then someone on another PC reads or even modifies the files in that shared folder. Windows uses the user account system discussed throughout this Chapter to protect your shared data from prying eyes, and the permission system to give you the power to determine exactly what others can and can't do with your shared files.

Civilized, isn't it?

Sharing folders is for more than just sending stuff from one PC to another, too. Multiple users can collaborate on a project by working on the same files, and avoid having several versions of each document floating around. (There are limits, of course; for instance, you can't modify a Word document if someone else currently has it open. But database programs like Microsoft Access let multiple users read and write to the same file simultaneously under certain circumstances.)

Naturally the PC hosting the shared folder must be powered on for others to be able to access the folder, but the person who shared the files doesn't necessarily have to be logged in.

But here's the rub: the defaults in Windows Vista could allow anyone on your network to read your files, yet permit nobody to modify them. It's just a matter of knowing where the vulnerabilities are and which buttons to click.

Whenever you share a folder, you are essentially opening a backdoor to your computer, potentially allowing access to sensitive data. It's important to keep security in mind at all times, especially if you're connected to the Internet. Otherwise, you may be unwittingly exposing your personal data to intruders looking for anything they can use and abuse. Furthermore, a nonsecure system is more vulnerable to viruses, Trojan horses, and other malicious programs. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't use file sharing, just that you'll want to use some common sense if you do.

1. Share a Folder

Sharing resources is easy, but you'll need to take care of a few things first.

Before you share any resources on your PC, your account must have a password. If you haven't done so already, open the User Accounts window in Control Panel and click Create a password.

Now, any user account on your PC could be used as a backdoor to gain access to your data, which is why every account should have a password. To have Windows enforce passwords for your administrator-level accounts, open Parental Controls in Control Panel. If you see a yellow box that says One or more administrator accounts do not have a password, click the box. On the Ensure Administrator Passwords page, turn on the Force all administrator accounts to set a password at logon option, and then click OK.

Next, open the Network and Sharing Center in Control Panel, shown in Figure 1, and make sure the network type (just above Access) is set to Private network. If it isn't, or if the File sharing option below is Off, click the Customize link on the right side, select Private, and then click Next. When you're done, Network discovery should be set to either On or Custom, and File sharing should be On.

Figure 1. The Network and Sharing Center window must be set to "Private network" before you can share any folders or printers

Vista's default sharing mechanism leaves a lot to be desired, so go ahead and change it. In Control Panel, open Folder Options, and choose the View tab. At the bottom of the Advanced settings list, turn off the Use Sharing Wizard option and then click OK.

Finally, if you don't already know it, determine the name of your PC, as described in the upcoming "What's My PC's Name?" sidebar.

What's My PC's Name?

Your PC's name is the name others see when they access your shared folders over the network, so make it a good one.

In Control Panel, open System, click the Advanced system settings link on the left, and then choose the Computer Name tab. Ignore the Computer description field and instead look at the Full computer name entry immediately beneath it: this is your PC's name.

Each computer on your local network must have a different name, but they all must have the same Workgroup name. If you need to rename your PC or modify the Workgroup name, click the Change button (don't use the Network ID button).

When you're done, you may have to restart Windows for any changes to take effect.

Now you're ready to share.

To share a folder with others on your network, simply right-click its icon and select Share (or select Properties and choose the Sharing tab), and then click Advanced Sharing (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Use the Advanced Sharing window to safely share your folders and allow other users to modify the files therein (at your discretion)

Turn on the Share this folder option to start sharing the selected folder and all of its contents. The Share name is the name under which the folder will be accessed from other computers; although the name can be anything, it usually makes sense to leave the default, which is the same as the name of the folder.

A drive can be shared as easily as any folder, but it's not necessarily a good idea. First of all, conventional wisdom holds that you should only share folders you want made public, and keep everything else unshared. Second, Windows may already be sharing your entire drive without your knowledge, and it's in your best interest to stop it. 

But wait! You're not done yet. Click the Permissions button to open the Permissions window shown in Figure 3. Here, notice that the Everyone group (which is indeed everyone) has Read access, yet nobody has Change or Full Control access. This is probably not what you want.

Figure 3. To protect your data, you should set the permissions for every folder you share

So, highlight the Everyone entry in the Group or user names box and click Remove. Then, click Add, type your own username in the Enter the object names to select box, and click OK.

Next, highlight the name you just added in the Group or user names box, and below, click the checkbox in the Allow column for each right you'd like to grant. If you want a remote user to be able to read, write, and delete files in the folder, click the Allow checkbox next to Full Control.

Now, this means that anyone who tries to access your shared folder will need both your username and your password. If you don't want to share this information with anyone else on your network, you'll need to make another user account on your PC.

Say across the hall in your home, your daughter has a PC on your network and her username is Willow. If you create an account on your own PC named Willow and assign it the same password your daughter uses, she'll be able to access the files in this folder without a login at all. (See the next section if you have two PCs with the same username, yet different passwords.)

So, once you've created the new account, return to the Permissions window (Figure 3), click Add, type the name of the new account (e.g., Willow), and click OK.

When you're done adding users, click OK and then OK again to close the Advanced Sharing and Properties windows, respectively. Voilà; a tiny two-person insignia appears on the folder's icon, which means the folder is shared and ready to be used.

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