Updated networking features for Windows XP Professional

The general networking infrastructure in Windows XP Pro is slightly different than previous versions of Windows. This Daily Feature explains some of the subtle changes you'll face when upgrading to XP in a networked environment.

Networking set up in Windows XP Professional differs slightly from that found in previous versions of Windows. Many of the key ideas will be familiar to you if you supported Windows NT or 2000 clients. Here, I will help you navigate the new menus and dialog boxes found in Windows XP and explain how to make a client connection to a typical workgroup or domain network.

Joining a workgroup
Setting up a workgroup involves loading a group of machines with a common protocol. Each of these machines shares a common workgroup name but has a different computer name. To join a workgroup, log in as the Administrator, click on the Start button, right-click the My Computer icon, and select the Properties command from the context menu. In the System Properties sheet, select the Computer Name tab (Figure A). Click the Network ID button to launch the Network Identification Wizard, which will walk you through the steps of joining a domain or workgroup. Click Next to start the wizard.

Figure A
The Computer Name tab is used to change the information required to connect to a network.

On the first wizard screen, select This Computer Is A Part Of A Business Network, And I Use It To Connect To Other Computers At Work and then click Next. On the screen that follows, select My Company Uses A Network Without A Domain and then click Next. Finally, type the name of the workgroup, click Next, and click Finish. Keep in mind that each machine in a workgroup must have a unique computer name. If you need to change or verify the computer name, click the Change button on the System Properties sheet’s Computer Name tab. The Computer Name Changes dialog box (Figure B) allows changes to the computer name and the ability to switch between becoming a member of a domain or workgroup.

Figure B
Use this dialog box for computer name changes when working with a workgroup or domain.

Joining a domain
Attaching to a Windows domain is similar to connecting to a workgroup. The differences are that you must specify a domain name and create a computer account within the domain. To join a domain, log in as the Administrator and access the Computer Name tab in the System Properties dialog box. Click the Network ID button to launch the Network Identification Wizard. Click Next to start the wizard.

In the wizard, select This Computer Is A Part Of A Business Network, And I Use It To Connect To Other Computers At Work and then click Next. On the screen that follows, select My Company Uses A Network With A Domain and click Next twice. You must provide a username and password for a user who has the authority to create computer accounts within the domain—usually the Administrator—and provide the name of the domain you’re joining. Remember that the domain you’re attempting to join must also contain the user account for which you just entered the password. Click Next and then click Finish to complete the process. Windows will then require you to reboot your computer.

Joining a domain during Setup
Windows XP provides the choice for joining a domain during the Setup process. If you have the domain name, user account name, and password information available during Setup, selecting the Custom option will enable you to configure the necessary protocol and service selections in one sitting. If that necessary information is unavailable at Setup, choose the Typical option to create a generic workgroup machine configured for DHCP or Automatic Private IP Addressing.

Network configuration options
To see how your new networking connections are doing, click the Start button, followed by the Control Panel icon. Select the Network And Internet Connections category to find the Network Connections link. Click the link to see all your available network connections. Right-click the active connection and select Status from the context menu. You’ll see a dialog box similar to the one shown in Figure C.

Figure C
A shortcut to this information is available by selecting the Active Network icon located in the lower right-hand side of the Taskbar.

The dialog box displays the number of bytes that have been sent and received across the network. When you’re having network problems, this box is a great place to check the network’s status. Notice the buttons you can use to disconnect from the network and access the network’s property sheet. New for Windows XP is the Support tab that displays network connection details and includes a Repair button to restore connectivity of a lost network connection.

When you click the Properties button, you’ll see a dialog box similar to the one shown in Figure D. Some elements of the XP Properties dialog box are similar to those found in previous versions of Windows. For example, the dialog box typically contains a protocol, a client, a reference to the File And Print Sharing Service, and a QoS Packet Scheduler for network traffic control.

Figure D
The first thing listed in the Properties dialog box is the network card that’s bound to the connection. You can click the Configure button to configure the NIC’s properties.

As with other versions of Windows, you can use the Install and Uninstall buttons to add and remove network services. You can also select any individual network component and click the Properties button to see the properties specific to that object.

The XP Properties dialog box has two additional tabs not included in earlier versions, one for Authentication and the other for setting up the XP Firewall (Advanced). Use the Authentication tab to provide authenticated network access for your client (smart cards, certificates, etc.) for a more secure networking environment. The Advanced tab holds the much-talked-about Internet Connection Firewall option, which you can choose as a base level of protection against hacker intrusions.

Get ready to upgrade your network
If your company is considering making the upgrade to Windows XP Professional, use this article as your guide. The changes you’ll face when connecting a Windows XP Pro client in a network environment are subtle, but it's best to be prepared.

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