Microsoft

Windows 7 HomeGroups provide office-style convenience to home networks

Derek Schauland gives a quick overview of the new HomeGroup feature in Windows 7 that will make sharing files and resources on home networks easier, bringing the convenience of office networking to the home.

These days it seems everything and everyone is connected to a network of some type all the time. Cell phones can get on the Internet with connections as fast as or faster than most home or business connections, and people depend on networks to share e-mail, photos, video, and conversations.

Microsoft is aware of all the networking that goes on, even in the home, and has created an added feature for home networks in Windows 7 called HomeGroup to simplify the sharing of files and printers (or other devices) on a network. I'm going to tell you how HomeGroup works and look at how you might find it useful.

What is a HomeGroup and how is it different from a home network?

HomeGroup in Windows 7 provides a way to share files, folders, photos, and printers with other users on your home network. It doesn't replace a home network, but it adds to it the ability to assign permissions to shared content and determine what rights to those files the users will have: allowing or disallowing group members to trade files, modify files, etc.

When you set up Windows 7 on a computer, a default HomeGroup is created if no other Home Group exists; if a home group already exists, the computer will allow you to join the existing group.

What are the requirements for a HomeGroup?

  • Windows 7 must be installed on all participating computers. (Note: Any version of Windows 7 can participate in a home group, but PCs running Starter Edition or Home Basic cannot create them.)
  • The computers participating in a HomeGroup must be on a home network.
  • HomeGroups are password-protected; users must enter the HomeGroup password to join.

While not as complex in their configuration as a network full of NTFS permissions and policies, HomeGroup provides a good deal of security for the users on a home network. It allows users to easily make their libraries or other documents available to others with minimal effort.

Content and devices included or shared with a HomeGroup are made available from the computer they reside on within the HomeGroup. This removes the need to publish a file or folder to a server or dedicated computer on the network to make it available to others. With a HomeGroup, the other members of the group appear on your system as available resources you can access. The permissions configured by the files' owner can determine the level of access available to the group.

If you configure custom libraries on your computer, you can create a library that points to a location on another computer within the HomeGroup.

Note: Libraries are common pointers to a folder location or group of files

How do I join a HomeGroup?

  • Open Control Panel on the computer you wish to add to the HomeGroup.
  • Click HomeGroup Settings.
  • Select Join Now to join an existing HomeGroup.
Note: If Join Now is unavailable, you may need to create a HomeGroup for your network. Once the group has been created and has items shared, the options for the HomeGroup will be visible, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

Click to enlarge.

Shared items configured in a HomeGroup

From this screen you can also change what is shared or excluded as well as change the password for the HomeGroup if you have permission to do so.

Can I belong to multiple HomeGroups?

You can leave a HomeGroup to join another one, but you may participate in only one HomeGroup at a time. This configuration makes sense because you will likely share items on only one home network at a time. Writing down the password for each HomeGroup you wish to participate in will allow you to leave and rejoin each group as needed. This way, if you are visiting another home network (other than your own) you can access printers and other resources there. Simply choose to leave the HomeGroup you belong to and join the new group.

Note: When you leave a HomeGroup, all connections and access to resources shared to that group will be disconnected and need to be reconnected when rejoining the group.

Sharing items with members of a HomeGroup

When you share an item with a HomeGroup, Windows 7 makes the operation quite simple. You right-click a resource (file, folder, etc.) and choose Share With. The context menu will appear with three choices: Nobody, HomeGroup Read, HomeGroup Read/Write.

Choosing Read allows members of the HomeGroup to view the shared file but not modify it. Choosing Read/Write allows access and modification, and choosing Nobody does not share the resource. The configuration is simplified for easy use on a home network.

Conclusion

As someone who works with networks and computers all day, the concept of HomeGroups seems very appealing in that it provides a simplified method to access and maintain information across computers on a home network. In my opinion it can help remove the need for IT support at home, and it could be very convenient for a family of users who are constantly sharing files and other resources.

About Derek Schauland

Derek Schauland has been tinkering with Windows systems since 1997. He has supported Windows NT 4, worked phone support for an ISP, and is currently the IT Manager for a manufacturing company in Wisconsin.

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