By Gloria Boyer
Ever wonder what all the fuss over home networks is about? Simply put, a network connects two or more computers and allows them to “talk” to each other. This connection makes all kinds of things possible:
Sharing files. You can access files on other network computers. This can be very handy, for example, when you're paying bills on a laptop in the living room, and you need a file that’s on the computer in your home office. With a network, you can access that file without having to physically go to the other computer. And you're in control: with a network, you can share what you want to share and keep private what you want to keep private.
Streaming media. Media streaming refers to the process of sending digital media, such as photos, music, or video, over a network to a device that can play the media. For instance, you can view your photos or movies on some current-generation TVs, or you can play music on some compatible stereo receivers that are connected to your network.
Sharing an Internet connection. You can share a broadband Internet connection—which means you don’t have to buy a separate Internet account for each computer.
Playing network games. You can play computer games with other people on the Internet, and you can even connect game consoles (such as Microsoft Xbox, Nintendo Wii, and Sony PlayStation) to your network.
Sharing a printer. Instead of buying a printer to connect to each computer, you can use one printer and connect it to the network. Then everyone on the network can use it.
Networks can be wired—which means that the computers are connected using cables—or wireless, which means that the connections are made using radio waves, through the air.
With a wireless network, you don't have to be tied to your desk to take care of computer-related tasks. And you don't have to go out of your way to use the Internet because it's everywhere in your home. If your network is wireless, you’re free to move about the cabin—er, I mean the house—with a laptop. You might even take the laptop outside and read your e‑mail in the shade of the old apple tree. What’s not to like about that?
With wireless networking, you can have computers anywhere in your home without having to run cables to those locations. Cables are expensive to install in the walls, and they’re unsightly and a trip hazard if left lying on the floor, so keeping them out of your home is a plus!
The freedom and mobility of a wireless network comes at a small price: a wired network is a bit faster. But most people are happy with the speed of a wireless network. (If you want to play very complicated games online, you might prefer the speed of a wired connection.)
If you buy a wireless router (the "translator" that keeps all your computers happily talking to each other—and to the Internet), your computers can still have wired connections to it, but you'll have the option of going wireless at some time in the future. Even if you don’t have a laptop now, and therefore no real need for a wireless network, there’s always the chance that you will at some point. Being prepared for the freedom of going wireless is the best way to go.
Windows 7 makes adding a wireless network to your home easier than ever before. Here's what you'll need:
At least two computers
A network adapter for each computer (laptops usually come with these built in)
A wireless router
These easy-to-follow instructions: Start here to set up a home network in Windows 7
So take the plunge and experience what a home network can do for you.
When you’re done setting up your network, be sure to create a homegroup on the computers running Windows 7. It takes only a couple of clicks, and it’s the easiest way to share files and printers on your network. And after all, that’s the whole point, isn’t it? To learn more, see HomeGroup: recommended links.
About the author
Gloria Boyer is a writer on the Windows team at Microsoft. Formerly a network administrator, she now writes about Windows networking. She's also a poet, an artist, a dancer, a juggler, a gardener, a cat lover, and not particularly tall.
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