Network Tips

Ways To Benefit More From Your Networking Arrangement

First Published: PC Today
Date Published: November 2003
By Kevin Savetz

Spy On Your Internet Connection

Knowing whether your PC is currently online can seem tricky, especially if you have an internal modem. But keeping tabs on your Internet connection is easier than you might think. In Windows XP, click Start, Control Panel, Network And Internet Connections, and Network Connections. Next, double-click the icon representing your Internet connection. You'll see the Internet Connection Status dialog box, which indicates whether the connection is active or inactive, how long you've been online, and the connection speed. From this dialog box, click the Properties button, select the Show Icon In Notification Area checkbox, and click OK. A tiny icon will now appear in the Taskbar and display a notice whenever your Internet connection becomes active or inactive.

Many New Home Networks Are Wireless

Numerous home users setting up networks nowadays do it wirelessly simply because wireless networks are so easy to set up. A wireless network helps two or more computers share information, printers, and an Internet connection. Users should connect a wireless hub (the control center of the wireless network) to the computer closest to the Internet connection point (that is, the phone line or cable modem). The other computers can connect to the wireless network with Wi-Fi (standard set for wireless equipment; short for wireless fidelity) access cards.

There's no hard-and-fast rule about how far apart computers can be from the hub; it depends on the walls and objects between them. In a typical home or office, you can have from 200 to 300 feet between the PCs before wireless connections start to degrade. Concrete and steel walls reduce the range considerably.

Bypass The Network Password

After you add a Windows 98 PC to a network, you'll probably see the Enter Network Password dialog box appear on-screen every time you boot the computer. This dialog box will prompt you for your name and a password (which you probably haven't set and actually don't need to set for a simple, personal network). You can leave the password field blank and click OK to get past this window, but it's just as easy to eliminate this dialog box altogether.

From Win98's Start menu, choose Settings, click Control Panel, and double-click Network. Look for the Primary Network Logon drop-down menu in the dialog box that displays. Choose Windows Logon (instead of Client For Microsoft Networks) from the drop-down menu and click OK.

Keep The Workgroup Name Consistent

In a large business network, it often makes sense to create multiple workgroups that organize computers by department or function. But in a home or small-office network, all of the computers on the network should have the same workgroup name. However, Microsoft's default workgroup names are inconsistent: In WinXP's Network Setup Wizard, the default name is MSHOME; in Win98, the default name is Workgroup. To keep networking simple, choose an easy-to-remember workgroup name and make sure it's the same on every PC.

To view or change the PC's workgroup name in WinXP, open the Control Panel, click Performance And Maintenance, and then click System. Choose the Computer Name tab to see the workgroup name, and if necessary, click the Change button to change it. Click OK to save your change and close the dialog boxes. In Win98, open the Control Panel, double-click Network, choose the Identification tab, and change the Workgroup name if necessary. Click OK to save your change.

Quickly Network Two Computers

If you need to move files between two WinXP PCs but don't have access to networking hardware, you can create a direct network using a serial cable, parallel cable, or (if both PCs have them) infrared ports.

First, set up the computer that stores the files you want to move. From the Control Panel, click Network And Internet Connections and then click Network Connections. From the Network Tasks area in the left pane, click Create A New Connection. When the New Connection Wizard appears on-screen, click Next, select the Set Up An Advanced Connection radio button, and click Next. Select the Connect Directly To Another Computer radio button, click Next, select the Host radio button, and click Next. (You'll need to follow these same steps to configure the second PC, but select the Guest radio button instead of the Host radio button during this step.)

Finally, tell Windows how you'll be connecting the PCs: via parallel port, serial port, or infrared. A serial connection is your best bet because it's fast and reliable, plus you may already have a serial cable lying around. On the other hand, trying to find a parallel cable with connectors for hooking up two PCs can be difficult. And infrared is too slow to move a lot of large files.

Share A Printer That's Connected To A WinXP PC

If you have more than one computer, a network helps you share a single printer among those computers. Plus, you can share any printer; it doesn't matter how it connects to the PC. To share a printer that's connected to a PC running WinXP, open the Control Panel, click Printers And Other Hardware, click Printers And Faxes, right-click the icon representing the printer you want to share, and choose Sharing. The computer that the printer connects to needs to remain turned on in order for this network printing arrangement to work.

The Two-Step Process Of Sharing A Printer In Win98

To share a printer that's connected to a PC running Win98, you must first open the Control Panel, double-click the Network icon, click the File And Print Sharing button, and select the option next to I Want To Be Able To Allow Others To Print To My Printer(s). Click OK. You may have to reboot the PC. The second step is to double-click the Printers icon in the Control Panel, right-click the icon representing the printer, and choose Sharing.

Know Your Network Neighborhood

Windows makes browsing and using files from other computers on your network as easy as accessing the files on your own PC. In WinXP, choose My Network Places from the Start menu to see a list of the other computers on your LAN (local-area network). Win98 provides the same functionality via its Network Neighborhood. Double-click the Network Neighborhood icon on your Desktop to see a list of the other computers on the network.

With either OS (operating system), if the other computers have file sharing enabled, you should be able to open documents stored on them or copy files to your PC. If you don't see or can't access the other computers in My Network Places or Network Neighborhood, chances are you haven't properly configured them for file sharing yet.

Too Many Network Neighbors?

If you have a cable or DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) Internet connection, there's a slim chance you could see other users' PCs in your My Network Places or Network Neighborhood window-and maybe they can see your PC, too. This can happen because you're all part of a service provider's WAN (wide-area network).

Most broadband service providers do a good job of securing the WAN so separate households can't access each others' computers; but if yours doesn't, strangers could read your files and use your printer. If you see other computers in your My Network Places or Network Neighborhood window, immediately deactivate file and print sharing as a temporary fix. For a more permanent fix, adding a firewall to your LAN (local-area network) will let you share files and printers among your PCs without sharing them with the rest of the world.

Install A Firewall

A firewall is software or hardware that isolates your PC from unauthorized computers via a network or on the Internet, while still letting you access other networked computers and/or the Internet. If you have a cable or DSL connection, you should use a firewall.

WinXP has a built-in firewall. To activate it, open the Control Panel, click Network And Internet Connections, and then click Network Connections. Click the icon that represents your LAN or high-speed Internet connection and click Change Settings Of This Connection from the Network Tasks area in the left pane. Choose the Advanced tab and select the checkbox next to Protect My Computer And Network By Limiting Or Preventing Access To This Computer From The Internet. Click OK.

There's no built-in firewall in Win98, but you can easily add one. ZoneAlarm from Zone Labs (free; is just one example of a basic firewall you can download and install that works with Win98/Me/XP computers.

Reprinted with permission from PC Today magazine.

Articles by Kevin Savetz