Windows 7 Networking Changes

Windows 7 has implemented a few new things when it comes to how PCs are networked

By , ITworld |  Windows, Windows 7

Windows 7 has implemented a few new things when it comes to how PCs are networked. Reassuringly, it has kept a few old chestnuts that date back to Windows 98 for those of us that are slow to change. Some of these are obvious - such as changes to how information is presented in the control panels and other user interface elements. And some of them are more obscure, touted by various Microsoft bloggers and data sheets but harder to come by.

Let's take a quick tour around and help you make the most of these features and look at where you can find some common networking tasks in Windows 7. We'll start with the Network and Sharing Center control panel, as you can see in the screenshot here it has some new items.

Network and Sharing Center Control Panel in Windows 7 has a few new elements

A second item that has changed with Windows 7 is the controls for sharing options have been moved so that you can assign them to particular networks. They used to be on the main options page in Vista, but now they have been moved to the Advanced settings for particular networks in Windows 7. This is actually an improvement, as you can see in the screenshot here. Why? Because you can set things for particular network profiles, such as when you move between office and home networks. This means when you are at work, your home printers won't show up as choices and vice-versa. You can set up different default printers for different networks.

Sharing settings for individual networks make setting up different profiles easier

The firewall options are still at the bottom of the Network and Sharing center in Windows 7 as they were with Vista. But the actual firewall software itself has been beefed up now so that you can configure different profiles for particular locations, so as you move about Windows will apply the appropriate settings automatically. Again, this makes them more useful and gives you fewer things to do as you move about among various networks. Here is a screenshot showing you the new layout. This is probably the first time that the built-in Windows firewall is close to the functionality of some of the third-party products, so it is nice to see Microsoft finally learning from its historical baby steps in this area.

Windows firewall settings page, with the ability to switch among different network profiles

One of the nice things is the ability to quickly find and connect to a wireless network. Windows 7 has added the feature to click on a new wireless taskbar icon and get setup in a matter of seconds. Too bad the Mac OS has had this feature for years in its taskbar!

Another feature that isn't immediately obvious from the control panels is what Microsoft calls Libraries. These are essentially meta-folders that can contain all sorts of information that isn't necessarily located on your own hard drive. Libraries can show files and folders but don't actually store anything inside. It is more of an organizational tool, to monitor and index your data, and you can share them across your workgroup or homegroup too. Windows 7 comes with a few default libraries to get you started, and if you were chafing at trying to put all your files from different computers into a single folder, then this feature can come in very handy. Think of this as a poor man's Intranet, or Sharepoint without the hassle.

There are other additions to Windows 7 that make it easier for laptop users. First and foremost is one feature called VPN Reconnect that allows Windows 7 to automatically reestablish active VPN connections when Internet connectivity is interrupted. You go Set up a new connection and choose connect to a workplace as you used to do with Vista. The only difference comes when you have to move about your office and go in and out of coverage, you won't have to re-authenticate your PC if you are using a VPN. That is another big time saver, and especially as we mostly use more laptops than desktops in our daily computing lives.

Second is a new series of controls that is called the Mobility Center, as you can see from the screen shot here. It consolidates things that were hard to access, and now in one place for mobile workers that need to make adjustments to their PCs, such as switch screens for presentations or printers or to turn the wireless radio off to conserve battery life.

The new Windows Mobility Center, where you have all your controls in one easy to find place

Speaking of making it easier for users on the go, another feature that comes under the covers with Windows 7 is the ability to create a quality of service policy that is based on the URL of a Web server, provided that you are using Windows Server 2008 R2 to maintain your policies. You can throttle network traffic accordingly from this URL and prioritize other traffic to make it easier and more responsive experience for these users. There are tons of other improvements to security policies, whitelisting applications (what Microsoft calls Applocker) and endpoint protection with Server 2008 R2, too numerous to go into here, but this is why many shops are looking more closely at this upgrade in the coming months.

Another under the covers improvement has to do with BitLocker, Microsoft's built-in drive encryption routine. The Vista version wasn't very good and difficult to install and use. Windows 7 has made some big improvements and made it easier to encrypt parts of hard drives without having to change the partitions. The unlock process can also happen automatically, if you link the encrypted portion to a smart card or password. You can even manage the recovery keys globally in case a user forgets them.

Bitlocker unlock options under Windows 7

There is also a program that can encrypt USB thumb drives and you can decrypt and read the files on older XP and Vista systems, too -- although you can't write new files with these older OSs.

Finally, there are improvements to the older Remote Assistance programs that allowed a support person to take control over your screen for troubleshooting or collaborative purposes. These are called Easy Connect and the idea is to, well, make things easier, or at least as easy at LogMeIn or GoToMyPC did with earlier Windows versions. You go through a few quick steps with a wizard and send your correspondent the access code and you can quickly connect to each other.

As you can see, there are some important improvements in the Windows 7 networking arena that will make it easier to support and deploy these machines across an enterprise. Now if you could only view your IP address more readily!


More information about Windows security options

More help on understanding network administration tools

Command XP
Windows 7
Firewall Control Panel, Windows firewall N&SC*, Windows Firewall N&SC*, Windows Firewall
Set sharing options Windows Explorer, Shared Folders N&SC*, sharing and discovery options N&SC*, Advanced Sharing Settings, click on particular location and choose options
Display IP address Network Connections N&SC*, click on LAN Status, Details N&SC*, click on LAN Status, Details
Renew an IP address Command line: IPCONFIG/renew Command line: IPCONFIG/renew Command line: IPCONFIG/renew
Connect to a wireless network Network Connections, create a new connection N&SC*, connect to a network, setup newwireless Taskbar, left click on target network
Connect to a VPN Network Connections, Create a new connection, connect to workplace using Wizard N&SC*, connect to a network, connect to workplace N&SC*, Setup new connection, connect to workplace
*Network and Sharing Center control panel applet which can be found in Vista
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