Sharing on a Wi-Fi Network Using Windows Vista

By Eric Geier

August 16, 2007

Learn how sharing resources in Vista differs from Windows XP and see exactly how to perform common network sharing tasks.

Now that we've covered network connectivity tasks using the new Windows Vista, we'll discuss the differences of sharing from Windows XP. Although setting up shared resources in Vista is similar to what you may be used to in Windows XP, it can be a bit confusing at first. Therefore, I'll show you step-by-step how to perform common network sharing tasks and configurations.

Share Files Using the Public Folder

Windows Vista doesn't have the Shared Documents folder (which Windows XP offered), however the Public folder is included which offers a very easy way to share files and documents with others on the same network in addition to other user accounts on the PC.

As Figure 1 shows, you can access the Public folder from Windows Explorer or Computer.

Figure 1

You can simply drag and drop (or copy and paste) files and folders into the Public folder (or one of its subfolders) to share them with users on the same PC and others on the same network.

Although Vista automatically shares the Public folder with other network users, there is a security measure in place to help prevent unintended sharing of your Public folder when on public and other un-trusted networks, such as Wi-Fi Hotspots. As mentioned in Intro to Wi-Fi Networking Using Windows Vista, there's a new network classification scheme where you're prompted to classify the networks you connect to, as Home, Work, or Public.

For example, if you choose Public location, Vista will automatically disable all network discovery and sharing (the Public folder and any manually shared folders) to protect your documents and privacy while on the unsecured network. Then if you go back home and connect to your network (that you classified as Home), sharing will be re-enabled.

You can also easily disable the sharing of the Public folder at anytime via the Network and Sharing Center which can be accessed by right-clicking on network status icon in the system tray. Then just scroll down to the green and/or gray status lights, click the arrow to the right of the Public folder sharing light, select your desired setting, and click Apply.

Share a Specific Folder

In addition to dragging over files to the Public folder, you can also enable the sharing of just about any folder on your PC, just like you could in Windows XP. Setting up sharing for folders in Vista isn't much more difficult than in XP, though it's a bit more confusing at first. Here's how to do it:

1. Right-click on the folder you want to share and select the Share… option. The File Share window pops-up. Figure 2 shows an example.
Figure 2
The list box with the Name and Permission Level fields are those who can access the shared folder (we'll call it the Access List). The Windows account you're currently logged on is automatically added to the Access List.
2. Using the drop down list (just above the Access List), select who you want to add to the Access List and click Add. To share the folder among network users (and consequently all other user accounts on the PC), select and add the Everyone entry from the drop down list.
3. After adding an entry to the Access List, you can modify the Permission Level by clicking its arrow.
Here's the attributes of the levels:
  • Reader: Can view shared files, but not add, alter, or delete them.
  • Contributor: Can view or add shared files, but can only alter or delete files he or she has contributed.
  • Co-owner: Can view, add, alter or delete any shared file.
4. Once you're done click the Share button to apply the changes. Then you'll see a window letting you know the folder is now shared and its path. 5. Click Done to exit.

Share a Printer

Just like in Windows XP, you can easily set up a printer that's connected to a PC to be shared among users on the network; here's how:

1. Open the Printers folder from the Control Panel.
2. Right-click on the printer you want to share and select the Share… option. The printer properties window pops up with the Sharing tab selected.
3. Click Change Sharing Options. If you are prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.
4. Check the Share this printer option.
5. Enter the name in the Share name field that you would like to show in the network resources.
6. Click OK.

Use a Shared Printer

Once you have enabled the sharing of a printer, you can add that printer to other PCs on the network so you can print from it. Here's how to do it in Windows Vista:

1. Open the Printers folder from the Control Panel.
2. Click the Add a printer button on the toolbar.
3. Select the Add a network, wireless, or Bluetooth printer button. It will begin searching for any shared printers on the network.
4. Select the printer and click Next. If you don't see the printer you want, click the appropriate button to manually find it.
5. Enter your desired name for the new printer.
6. If you don't want the printer to be the default one selected/used when printing from the PC, uncheck the appropriate option.
7. Click Next.
A window should appear indicating the printer was successfully added.
8. To ensure its setup correctly click Print a test page.
9. Click Finish.

If you're unable to find the shared printer during the setup, you may want to ensure that printer sharing isn't disabled on the PC hosting the printer. You can check this by opening the Network and Sharing Center and scrolling to the appropriate entry on the status light area

Enable Password Protection

In Windows Vista you can enable password protection for your shared folders. When enabled, however, your shared resources aren't shared with others on the network. The shared resources will only be available to other user accounts on the same PC; and of course access is only given by entering the password.

1. Right-click on the network status icon in the system tray and select Network and Sharing Center. The Network and Sharing Center pops up.
2. Scroll down to the green and/or gray status lights and click the arrow on the right of Password protected sharing. The settings will appear, as seen in Figure 3.

Figure 3

3. Select Turn on password protected sharing and click Apply.

View All Your Shared Folders

Unlike Windows XP, Vista allows you to easily and quickly see all the folders you're sharing. It's very easy to forget which folders you've shared over time, though this feature enables you to always know exactly what is being shared and to whom. Therefore you can better protect your data and privacy which is particularly important for those who often use un-trusted networks such as Wi-Fi hotspots.

Here's how to view the lists of shared files and folders:

1. Right-click on the network status icon in the system tray and select Network and Sharing Center.

2. Scroll all the way to the bottom of the Network and Sharing Center.

3. Click on the links, as pointed out by the red arrow in figure 4, to view the files and folders you are sharing.

Figure 4

It's a good idea to periodically check your shared folders, their permission settings, and their contents to make sure you don't unintentionally share something that's private or sensitive.

Stay Tuned for more on networking using Windows Vista.

Eric Geier is the founder and president of Sky-Nets, Ltd. which operates a Wi-Fi hotspot network serving the general aviation community. He also is an author of many computing books including 100 Things You Need to Know about Upgrading to Windows Vista, published by Que and Wi-Fi Hotspots: Setting up Public Wireless Internet Access, published by Cisco Press.

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