Windows 7 : Networking and HomeGroup Sharing - Sharing Between PCs (part 2) - Old-School Sharing

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2. Old-School Sharing

If homegroups are too simple (or too earthy-crunchy) for your tastes, or if you simply want to share files and folders on your Windows 7–based PCs with PCs that are running earlier versions of Windows, fear not: you can still access the old-school network-based sharing technologies that have been available in previous Windows versions for years. In fact, they work much like they did in both Windows XP and Vista: you can choose between a simple, wizard-based sharing mechanism or a slightly more complicated, but much more capable (and, let's face it, really old school) method.


By default, Windows 7 is configured so that folder sharing requires password protection. For example, if you configured a user named Paul with the password 123 on a computer named PC-A and have likewise configured a user named Paul with no password (or a different password) on a computer named PC-B, the user Paul on PC-B won't be able to access any folders shared by Paul on PC-A unless he provides the appropriate logon information when prompted. To bypass this issue, it's best to use passwords for all accounts on all PCs and use the same password when you configure identically named accounts on different PCs.

2.1. Sharing a Folder: The Wizard-Based Approach

Microsoft's wizard-based approach to folder sharing is simple enough. Navigating with Windows Explorer, locate and select the folder you'd like to share on your home network. Then click the Share with button in the toolbar, followed by Specific people. The File Sharing wizard, shown in Figure 8, will appear.

Figure 8. Windows 7's File Sharing wizard provides a more fine-grained approach to sharing than did XP's simple file sharing.

In the first stage of the wizard, you set the permission level for each user configured on the system, and remove those users to whom you do not wish to give access. By default, you are configured with Owner permissions, while all other users are configured with Read permissions.


What's missing, by the way, is the notion of "all users." To give blanket permission to anyone to access a share, you need to access the drop-down box to the left of the Add button and then select Everyone (All Users in This List).

The following permission types are available:

  • Owner: This is essentially admin-level permissions, and you are free to view, add, edit, or delete any shared file, as well as configure or remove the folder share.

  • Read/Write: Users with this permission level can view, add, edit, or delete any shared file. (This permission level was called Co-owner in Windows Vista.)

  • Read: Users with this permission level can view shared files but not add, edit, or delete them.

Once you're done configuring permissions, click the Share button and you're good to go. To change sharing permissions or stop sharing the folder, select it again, choose Share with and then Specific people, and then choose the appropriate option from the File Sharing wizard, which will now resemble Figure 9.

Figure 9. The File Sharing wizard can also be used to reconfigure or stop sharing.

2.2. Advanced Sharing

The File Sharing wizard works well enough, but if you've been sharing folders with Windows for a while now, as we have, you may actually be more comfortable with Windows 7's alternative sharing UI, which very closely resembles classic file sharing from Windows XP. To access this interface, locate the folder you'd like to share, right-click, and choose Properties. Next, click the Sharing tab, shown in Figure 10.

If you click the Share button, you'll see the now-familiar File Sharing wizard. Instead, click Advanced Sharing. This launches the Advanced Sharing dialog, which is very similar to the Sharing tab of a folder's Properties window in Windows XP (when classic file sharing is enabled, as it is by default in Windows XP Professional). The Advanced Sharing dialog, shown in Figure 11, assumes you know what you're doing, but it's very easy to use.

Figure 10. Like XP and Vista, Windows 7 offers two ways to share folders: Sharing for Dummies (the wizard) and Advanced Sharing.

Figure 11. If you don't mind getting your feet wet, Advanced Sharing is the way to go.

To share a folder this way, select the option titled Share this folder. Then, accept or edit the share name and click the Permissions button to display the Permissions window. From here you can set the permission level for users and groups. By default, only the Everyone group, which represents all user accounts on the system, is present, but you can click Add => Advanced => Find Now to choose other users and groups individually if needed. Click OK when you are done.


Advanced Sharing provides a number of features that aren't available via the File Sharing wizard, and that's why it's good to know about. One is a limit on how many people can be connected simultaneously to the share. Windows 7 limits the number of users who can simultaneously connect to the PC to 10. But you can reduce the number of connections to a given folder in the Advanced Sharing window. (You cannot, however, raise the limit beyond 10.)

Another unique feature of Advanced Sharing is the capability to configure folder caching, which determines whether connected users can cache the contents of shared folders locally for use offline. You access this functionality via the Caching button in Advanced Sharing.

While some people will no doubt have very specific sharing needs, most simply want to open up a portal from which they can share files with others or with other PCs. In this case, Advanced Sharing is actually quite a bit quicker than the wizard.

3. Sharing Printers

While network-attached printers are becoming more common these days, many people still use printers that are directly connected to an individual PC, typically by a USB cable. In such cases, it's nice to be able to print to that printer from other PCs on the home network. Although you could temporarily unplug these printers and plug them into a different machine, an easier way is available. You can share these printers so that other PCs on the network can access them.


For this to work, the PC to which the printer is connected must be turned on, and not asleep, in hibernation, or shut down. You don't need to leave it logged on with a particular user account, however.

In Windows 7, you share printers via HomeGroup sharing. HomeGroup sharing is simple and requires you to just check the Printers box in the HomeGroup control panel. Simple, no?

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