By Gloria Boyer
If you're like me, the last thing you want to do is fiddle with your network configuration. I'd rather be gardening, or taking pictures, or doing a thousand other things! If you found it a headache to set up file and printer sharing in earlier versions of Windows, you'll be amazed at the difference a homegroup makes. HomeGroup is a new feature in Windows 7 that makes file and printer sharing on a home network so easy almost anyone can set it up in about thirty seconds. Literally.
A homegroup makes it a snap for me to access files and printers on other PCs on my home network. For instance, if I'm using my laptop in the living room, I can easily access files stored on the desktop PC in my home office. I can also print to my home office printer without even getting up from the couch.
But that's not all a homegroup can do. It also makes it easy to stream media to devices in my home—for example, to an electronic picture frame, or to a current-generation TV. To learn more about streaming media to devices in your home, see Getting started with media streaming.
You need to have a home network before you start because a homegroup is essentially a file and printer sharing "overlay" on an existing network. If you don't already have a network, see Start here to set up a network. Also, make sure that your current network location is set to "Home network" (you can check it in Network and Sharing Center) because HomeGroup only works on networks set to the Home network location. If you need to change the network location, click the current setting, and then pick the one you want. (Don't change a public network to the Home network location, though. That's usually not safe.)
Computers must be running Windows 7 to be part of a homegroup. With Windows 7 Starter and Windows 7 Home Basic, you can join a homegroup, but you can't create one.
To create my homegroup, I opened HomeGroup in Control Panel, and then clicked Create a homegroup. Then, I walked to each of the other computers on my network, opened HomeGroup in Control Panel, and clicked Join now. For more information about creating or joining homegroups, see Create a homegroup
and Join a homegroup.
During the process of setting up or joining a homegroup, I chose the libraries and printers I wanted to share. I can easily change these later, and I can exclude specific files from sharing, or share them with some people and not others. To learn more about that, see Keep specific files and folders from being shared with a homegroup.
HomeGroup provides a password to help protect the shared files and printers. I can change that password at any time, too, by following the steps in Change a homegroup password.
My homegroup is not set in stone. I can easily change homegroup settings such as the libraries I'm sharing. The steps to do this are explained in Share libraries with your homegroup
and Change HomeGroup settings.
Now that I've got a homegroup, what happens next? How do I use it?
As an example, today I wanted to e‑mail a photo of my roses to a friend of mine. I was using my laptop in the living room, but the photo was on the PC in my home office. I opened Libraries, clicked the name of my desktop PC under Homegroup in the left pane, and then clicked the Pictures folder. I found the photo, copied it, and pasted it into the e‑mail I was writing—easy.
A homegroup is protected by a password. You can use the one created when you first set up the homegroup, or you can change it. If you ever forget your homegroup password, you can view it on any PC that's part of your homegroup by following the steps in Where can I find my homegroup password?
People who belong to a home network won't automatically belong to a homegroup. They need a computer running Windows 7, first of all. Then they need to have the homegroup password so that they can join the homegroup.
Here are a few reminders to make your HomeGroup experience as smooth as possible:
When using a homegroup, make sure all the homegroup PCs are turned on, connected to the network, and not sleeping or hibernating. It might seem pretty obvious that if a PC is turned off, you won't be able to access the shared files on it, but it's easy to forget that—it's happened to me before!
If you change the homegroup password, enter the new password on all the other homegroup PCs right away. That way, all the PCs stay "in sync." There are more tips like this in HomeGroup: frequently asked questions.
If you use a laptop from work when you're at home, be aware that domain-joined computers can join a homegroup and access files and printers shared by other people, but for security reasons they can't share their own files and printers.
If you ever have problems with a homegroup, use the HomeGroup troubleshooter to help resolve them. Open the HomeGroup troubleshooter
explains how to do that. Also, in Windows Help and Support, you can find more information to help troubleshoot any problems you might encounter while using a homegroup. For example, see Why can't I create a homegroup?
and Why can't I access my homegroup?
Who knew networking could be this easy? With HomeGroup, my network and I have finally become friends. I now spend less time trying to get my network to work the way I want and more time on the things I really care about.
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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