Why network?

How a computer network can make your life easier

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.

Go wireless and be unshackled from your desk

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?

Illustration of a wireless network with a shared Internet connection
Wireless network with a shared Internet connection

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.

What do I need to set up a wireless network?

Windows 7 makes adding a wireless network to your home easier than ever before. Here's what you'll need:

So take the plunge and experience what a home network can do for you.

About the author

Picture of columnist Gloria Boyer

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.

Have a comment for this columnist? Enter your feedback using the tool below. (You'll see the comment box after you click one of the buttons.) Note that although the columnist will read your feedback, personal replies are not possible due to the volume of feedback received.