On the weekend I rebuilt my media centre with Windows build 7000. This brought the number of Windows 7 machines in the house to four.
Now that I had the Media Centre it was time to investigate one of the cool new features that Windows 7 brings to the party. This is a feature that will be of particular interest to a specific type of mobile user – the kind that takes their work mobile PC home and wants to make use of the resources – such as printers – and media that on other machines in the house.
In Vista this is a pain. Typically the home PCs are not in a domain and each machine has its own set of accounts. Sure they are all on the same Wi-Fi network but if you want to do anything that involves one of the other machines you need to authenticate. In practice this means that if you want to print something that is on the printer connected to the desktop in the study then you will be prompted for a username and password and you need to use an account that is on that particular desktop. Similarly if you want to access the media on your media centre PC in the lounge you browse to a share and you are prompted to log on, which you do with an account from that machine. The alternative to this credential chaos in Vista is anonymous sharing which significantly reduces the security of your home network and, IMO, is not a good idea.
Enter the Homegroup. The homegroup is a new concept in Windows 7 that lets you establish a trusted relationship between the machines that you use on your home network by configuring a shared secret on each machine in the homegroup. On each machine you configure what you want to be shared with the other machines in the homegroup. Once this is set up you can access the specified content on the homegroup machines without authenticating each time you do it. Very clean.
In order to set up a homegroup your machine needs to have the network type for the active connection set to Home. If it is Public (the default) or Work then you cannot create a homegroup. Assuming you have set your network location to home the process for creating a homegroup is as follows. Click the images for larger versions.
In the Network and Sharing Centre click the Choose homegroup and sharing settings link as shown below.
Then click the Create Now button.
Specify what you want to share – below are the defaults.
The wizard will generate a secure password. You can change this after the fact – but I think it is good that a random one is generated as this is likely to result in a more secure password than one that is easy to remember. And you don’t need to remember it – you configure it once on each member of the homegroup and then forget about it. (note that this is not actually the password I ended up using – I’m not that stupid). Click finish and your first computer is set up.
Back in the Change homegroup settings you can view or change the password after you have created it. For instance if you add a new netbook to your collection months after initially setting up the homegroup – you can view the password from any of the PCs that are already in the homegroup. If you do need to change the homegroup password you do it by clicking the Change the password link.
This gives a a screen that more or less says “Are you sure? This will completely break your current homegroup and you will need to change the password on all the members” Click on the change the password link to proceed.
This will generate a new complex password. However unlike the initial creation you can choose not to use the autogenerated one and type your own. The little refresh button will generate yet another complex password (which I did after taking the screen shot below – again not that stupid)
Once you have create a home group on the first machine, you then need to join it from the other machines on the network. This is a simple matter of making sure the machine’s network location is set to home and then clicking that Choose homegroup and sharing settings link in the Network and Sharing centre. This time t. he machine will detect that a homegroup has already been created on the network. Click the Join button and then enter the password when prompted. Repeat for each machine you want to add.
Once this is all set up the content you are sharing from each machine is available via Explorer:
Via Media Player
And even in Media Centre, which allows one media centre to play content that is actually on another media centre in the house. Here we have media centre running on my tablet accessing the music library on the Media PC in the lounge.
All and all this makes for much simpler sharing between machines on your home network. It is set and forget and it just works.