Windows 7 : Manage Your Network - Connecting to a Network

11/15/2010 2:10:03 PM
A network is a group of computers that communicate with each other through a wired or wireless connection. A network can be as small as two computers or as large as the Internet. In the context of this book, we primarily use the term network to mean the connection between computers in one physical location that are connected to each other, and to the Internet, through a network router.

If your computer has an enabled network adapter, whether or not it is actively connected to a network, a connection icon appears in the notification area at the right end of the Windows Taskbar. The connection icon indicates whether your network adapter is an Ethernet adapter or a wireless adapter (the wireless connection icon depicts signal strength bars). When the computer is not connected to a network, a red X appears on the connection icon. If a wireless connection is available, a yellow starburst appears on the wireless connection icon.

The connection icon indicates the adapter type and connection status.

Pointing to or clicking the connection icon displays information about the current network connection status. When the computer is not connected to a network, pointing to the connection icon displays information about whether a network connection is currently available. Right-clicking the connection icon displays a shortcut menu with links to the Network And Sharing Center and troubleshooting tools.

If your computer is a desktop computer you'll probably connect it to only one network. If your computer is a portable computer, you might connect it to networks in many locations: at home, at work, at a friend's or relative's house, at the library, at a coffee shop...wherever you want to connect to the Internet you will first need to connect to a network. Each time you connect your computer to a network that you haven't previously connected to, Windows 7 creates a network profile with the network name specified by the network router, and prompts you to specify whether that network is a home network, a work network, or a public network.

When you physically connect your computer to a network by using an Ethernet cable, Windows 7 automatically creates the network connection. To connect to a wireless network for the first time, you need to make the connection.

To connect to an available wireless network:

  1. Click the available wireless connection icon in the notification area of the taskbar.

    A list of available connections appears.

    The connection icon adjacent to each available connection indicates its signal strength.

  2. In the Wireless Network Connection area, point to any network connection.

    A ScreenTip displays information about the connection.

    To learn the security type of a network, point to the network in the connection list.

  3. Click the connection you want to connect to, and then click the Connect button that appears.

    Windows 7 connects to the selected network. If additional information is required, such as a WEP key or WPA password, Windows prompts you to enter it.


If you work in an organization that uses Active Directory Domain Services to authenticate (confirm the credentials of) users on a Windows Server domain and your computer is connected to the domain, the network connection type will automatically be Domain, and you will not be able to change it. Instead, you will log on to the domain by using your domain user name and password.

When you select the connection type, Windows creates a network profile for that connection and applies the settings specific to that connection type to your computer. Each network profile includes the following settings:

  • Network discovery Determines whether the computer can see and be seen by other computers connected to the network.

  • File and printer sharing Determines whether network users can access files and printers that you have shared.

  • Public folder sharing Determines whether network users can access files stored in the public folders on your computer.

  • Media streaming Determines whether network users can access music, videos, and pictures stored in your media library.

  • File sharing connections Determines the security requirements for devices that connect to your computer's file sharing connections.

  • Password-protected sharing Determines whether shared files are available to any network user or only to those users with user accounts on your computer.

  • HomeGroup connections Determines whether user account credentials are necessary to connect to computers joined to your homegroup. Available only for network profiles associated with the Home Network and Work Network connection types.


Computers running Windows 7 can co-exist on a network with computers running earlier versions of Windows. Other computers and devices on the network do not affect the available network connection types or their settings. However, at the time of this writing, network connection types and homegroups weren't available on a computer running a version of Windows earlier than Windows 7.

1. Home and Work Network Settings

Selecting the Home Network or Work Network connection type connects your computer to the network and configures the network profile to include network discovery, file and printer sharing, public folder sharing, media streaming, and password-protected sharing. Your computer is visible to other computers on the network. You don't necessarily have permission to access these computers or devices, but you can see that they are connected to the network and other network members can see that you are.

When your computer is connected to a home network, you can choose to join it to a homegroup. When your computer is connected to a work network, you can choose to join it to a custom workgroup or to a domain. (Ask your network administrator about these options.)

2. Public Network Settings

You'll probably connect to a public network only when you want to connect to the Internet from a portable computer. (Individual computers cannot connect directly to the Internet; they have to connect to an intermediary network that provides the Internet connection.) For example, you might connect to a free, pay-per-use, or subscription-based public network at an airport, restaurant, library, hotel, or other location. (I was at a highway rest stop last month that offered free Internet access from the picnic area!) If the network is provided free of charge, you might have immediate Internet access. Frequently, though, you will need to provide information, credentials, or payment in order to connect from the public network to the Internet.

When you connect to any network that you don't explicitly trust, choose the Public Network connection type to protect your privacy. Selecting the Public Network connection type connects your computer to the network without it being visible to other network users.

Public Network settings.

Wireless Network Security

If you have a wireless network router, it is important that you secure the network properly to prevent unauthorized users from connecting to it via the Internet and gaining access to the computers on your network, as well as to your Internet connection.

When you set up your wireless router, be sure to follow the instructions that come with it. You'll usually be required to connect the router directly to a computer (by using an Ethernet cable) and run a setup program. During the setup process, you can do several things to increase the security of your wireless network, such as:

  • Change the administrative password from the default password shared by all routers of that type to something unique. (Some manufacturers even use blank passwords.)

  • Secure the network with an appropriate level of encryption. Establish a Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) key or Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) password to prevent unauthorized users from connecting to your wireless network.

    Your router confi guration might offer multiple levels of WEP encryption, controlled by the length of the WEP key. A 10-character WEP key provides 64-bit encryption, and a 26-character key provides 128-bit encryption.

    WPA is a far more secure encryption standard than WEP. If you have a gigabit network router (which transmits data at 1,000 KB/sec, as opposed to the standard 100 KB/second), you should use WPA encryption. WPA encryption supports gigabit data transmission; WEP encryption does not.


    The wireless protocol is expressed in the form 80211.x. Most routers support one or more of the following: 80211.b (10 KB/sec), 80211.g (100 KB/sec), and 80211.n (1,000 KB/sec).

  • When creating a security key or password, use a combination of letters and numbers that you can remember—for example, a series of birthdays, or your street address. If the key is particularly long or diffi cult, you might want to keep a printed copy of it handy for when visitors want to connect their mobile computers to your wireless network.

3. Network Information

Depending on the environment you're working in, you might not know the structure of the network your computer is connected to, or all the computers and devices that are connected to your network. Windows 7 provides several tools for viewing information about your network and Internet connections.

  • Network window Displays a visual representation of the computers and devices on your network that are currently online and in compliance with the network profile for this connection, as well as the devices that support the network infrastructure, such as the network router. The Network window displays only those devices that are "visible" to your computer based on your current network settings.


    The items shown in the Computer area of the Network window are almost always physical computers, but from time to time another device can sneak in there. For example, a network printer might identify itself in the Computer area by a name such as NPI67BB3, or something equally mysterious.

  • Network and Sharing Center Displays information about the connection from your computer to the Internet and the type of active network connections you have, as well as links to tools you can use to manage network connections.

  • Network Map Displays a comprehensive visual representation of all the computers on your network.

In this exercise, you'll display information about the network your computer is connected to.

SET UP You don't need any practice files to complete this exercise. Ensure that your computer is connected to a network of any type, and then follow the steps.

  1. On the Start menu, click Computer.

    The Computer window opens in Windows Explorer.

  2. In the Navigation pane, click the Network group.

    The Network window opens.

    Troubleshooting If an Information bar appears at the top of the window to inform you that file sharing is turned off, click the Information bar and then click Turn On Network Discovery And File Sharing.

    Your Network window will show the devices on your network.

  3. On the toolbar of the Network window, click Network and Sharing Center.

    The Network And Sharing Center opens.

    The Network And Sharing Center.


    You can also open the Network And Sharing Center by clicking the Network icon in the notification area of the taskbar and then clicking Network And Sharing Center, or by displaying Control Panel in Category view and then, under Network And Internet, clicking View Network Status And Tasks.

  4. In the upper-right corner of the Network and Sharing Center, click See full map.

    The Network Map window opens.

The Network Map displays connections from the computers on your network to the Internet. You can click a computer or device on the Network Map to open it

CLEAN UP Close the Network Map window.

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