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Network and Sharing Center

To enable File and Printer sharing, you must now travel to the all-new Network and Sharing Center (Figure 3) by right-clicking on “Network” under the Start Menu and selecting “Properties”. Here, you can change the name of your network, its location type, and its options. Note that the network name differs from the Workgroup name because it is just a label the user has chosen for his or her network, for example, "Johnny Redhot's Flaming Network of Love".

Candy Land.

Figure 3: Network and Sharing Center

In Vista, sharing options can now be enabled individually. You can choose to enable Printer sharing but forbid File sharing. Or share files, but not the Public folder, or any combination therein. Network discovery may be enabled or disabled by default, depending on whether you chose Public or Private as your location type.

If you chose "Private" as your location type, your machine will be discoverable over the LAN by simply viewing the machines in your Workgroup. If you select "Public", then discovery is limited and you may only see the machine you're searching for my knowing its name or IP address.

Curiously... the Network Map doesn't actually provide an accurate map of the network. Instead, it lists the machine that you're on and how that machine is connected to the Internet (Figure 4).

Vista's Network Map.

Figure 4: Vista's Network Map.

By hovering over the clients and gateways, you get each device's name and IPv4, IPv6 and MAC addresses. At the bottom of the screen is a list of devices that were "discovered" and "can not be placed in the map." This begs the question: "If they were discovered, then why can't they be placed on the map?" I'd advise you to steer clear of that question, because it would only lead to others like "Why have a Network Map which doesn't show all the discovered devices on the network?"

Instead, you can view and access the computers on your network by either selecting "View computers and devices" at the sidebar on the left or by selecting "Click here to see all other devices" at the bottom of the network map.

Continuing with the theme of making easy things difficult is the simple task of bringing up the Local Area Connection Status window (Figure 5).

Local Area Connection Status.

Figure 5: Local Area Connection Status.

Vista newbies may be wondering where the hell I came up with this screen. Well, for the first time since Windows 3.1, you can't just double click on the little computer icon in the system tray to view your network status.

In an effort "to make things easier", you must now enter the Network Sharing Center and select "View Status" from there. One more window and two more clicks that you have to go through to get something to simple (and something frequently accessed).

One of the things you'll notice when you eventually get to view your network connection status is that, in Vista, it displays both the IPv4 and IPv6 connection rates. IPv6 was already available to users of Windows XP. but in Vista, IPv6 and IPv4 are both installed and enabled by default.

In addition, IPv6 in Vista sports an enhanced Teredo client (disabled by default) that is backwards compatible with IPv4. Unfortunately, IPv6 is only useful if you're connecting from an IPv6 host to an IPv6 client or you're connecting two IPv6 hosts or clients. My own router is only IPv4 compatible. So under the connection status in Figure 5, my IPv6 connectivity is listed as "Limited."

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