How to Get the Most Out of the Windows 2008 and Vista Networking & Sharing Center

by [Published on 9 Oct. 2008 / Last Updated on 9 Oct. 2008]

Taking a look at what the Windows Server 2008 & Vista Networking and Sharing Center is, how to use it, and how to get the most out of it as a Windows Admin.

Introduction

In Windows Server 2008 and in Windows Vista, when you go to Control Panel and look at your network configuration, you will have to use the Networking and Sharing Center. Initially, this may be confusing to veteran Windows Admins. In this article you will not only familiarize yourself with it but you will learn how to use it and how to get the most out of it. Let’s get started learning about the Windows Server 2008 & Windows Vista Networking and Sharing Center.

What is the Networking and Sharing Center?

In Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, you had your “Networking Properties” which was really just focused around the configuration of your network adaptors. You could configure things like TCP/IP settings and whether or not the Firewall was enabled. Unfortunately, to configure and check the status of other network functionality like file sharing, you had to go somewhere else. In fact, it was not possible to configure networking functions all in one place.

We all know that one of the most important reasons that you configure networking in Windows is to share files. This is especially true on a Windows Server and it is commonly done on Vista desktop machines in SMBs.

With the new Networking and Sharing Center, you will see how Microsoft has brought many fragmented networking configuration interfaces, together into one “center”.

Now, let’s take a look at the Networking and Sharing Center. To access the Networking and Sharing Center in Windows Vista and in Windows Server 2008, you go to the Control Panel and click on Networking and Sharing Center. Here is what you will see:


Figure 1: Networking and Sharing Center in Windows Vista


Figure 2: Networking and Sharing Center in Windows Server 2008

While these two versions of the Networking and Sharing Center are different in some ways, their core features are the same. Let’s find out what the new Networking and Sharing Center has to offer you.

What does the Networking and Sharing Center offer me?

As you can see from the graphics, both offer a graphical view of the networks that they are connected to and how those networks connect to the Internet.

With the new Networking and Sharing Center, you have the concept of private, public, and domain networks. These are called network “locations”. With these network locations, you can tell the OS whether that network adaptor is connected to an insecure network connection (such as directly to the Internet) or more secure networks like private networks or domain networks. Whether your network adaptors are LAN interface, wireless, Dialup, or VPN, each network adaptor is attached to one of these types of networks and is grouped accordingly.

To change the network location for an adaptor, click on the Customize link, next to the adaptor and you will see a window like this:


Figure 3: Set Network Location Customization Window

In this window, you can name your custom network, select whether it is a private or public network, and choose an icon for that new custom network location.

Back in the Networking and Sharing Center window, you can view the status of each of these adaptors by clicking on View Status. From here, you see the traditional network adaptor status and properties interface, like this:


Figure 4: Network Adaptor Status and Properties Window (Vista)

The Networking and Sharing Center also offers the Sharing and Discovery section. In this section, you can configure critical network sharing features. In Windows Server 2008, you can configure the following Sharing and Discovery option:

  • Network Discovery
  • File Sharing
  • Public Folder Sharing
  • Printer Sharing

Windows Vista has a couple more options. In its Sharing and Discovery section, you can configure:

  • Network Discovery
  • File Sharing
  • Public Folder Sharing
  • Printer Sharing
  • Password Protected Sharing
  • Media Sharing

Thus, Windows Vista has two more sharing and discovery features – password protected sharing and media sharing.

You can quickly see which of these are ON or OFF with small lights next to each. Additionally, if you click on the dropdown next to each one, you will be given more options and given the option to configure them, such as with Network Discovery:


Figure 5: Sharing and Discovery – Network Discovery Settings – Windows Vista

In this drop down, you can either turn off or on network discovery so that others can see your computer or server. You can also move from a WORKGROUP to a DOMAIN, if you wish. Each of the other sharing and discovery options has similar ON/OFF functionality from this menu.

What else can I do with the Networking and Sharing Center?

Besides the core networking & sharing functions we talked about above, there are a number of ancillary but very useful links on the Networking and Sharing Center menu that you can take advantage of. You can see these in the graphic below:


Figure 6: Other Tasks that can be performed in the Networking and Sharing Center

Some of these other tasks are:

  • View computers and devices
  • Connect to a network
  • Setup a new network
  • Manage network connections
  • Diagnose and repair network connections
  • Manage Internet options
  • Configure the Windows Firewall
  • Show me all the files and folders I am sharing & all the shared network folders on this computer

How can I get the most out of the Networking and Sharing Center?

Whether you are using Windows Vista or Windows Server 2008, the Networking and Sharing Center has a lot of options and functionality. So how can you get the most out of it? Here are my top 5 ways to get the most out of the Networking and Sharing Center:

  1. Set the proper network location for your network adaptor – by using networking locations, your adaptors will be in the right group and you discovery/sharing settings will be set accordingly.
  2. Analyze each of your sharing and discovery options – ensure that your network adaptors have the proper sharing and discovery settings to ensure that malicious attackers aren’t browsing your system unnecessarily.
  3. Look at all the files and folders you are sharing – this is really critical to do on any system that you use or administer. What if you have a PC that has a virus which has opened up a shared folder for use? What if you have a server and a junior admin has mistakenly shared out the entire C Drive of the server with anonymous FULL ACCESS? Both of these are very dangerous conditions with dire consequences. By using the Networking and Sharing Center’s Show me all the files and folders I am sharing feature, you could prevent the loss of data.
  4. Make sure you have enabled the Windows Firewall – the Windows software firewall has new stateful inbound and outbound functionality in Windows Vista and Sever 2008. Make sure you are taking advantage of it by enabling it on each adaptor.
  5. Know what the Networking & Sharing Center is, where it is, and when you can use it

Summary

In this article, you learned what the Windows Vista & Server 2008 Networking and Sharing Center is, how to use it, and how to get the most out of it. Truly, the new Networking and Sharing Center can be confusing to new administrators but truly, the networking and sharing center is a powerful tool that every Windows Admin should be comfortable using!

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