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How Do I Get My Windows Machines to Network with each Other?

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Leo, I recently purchased an Asus VivaTab tablet running full Windows 8.1 (not Windows RT) and I’ve tried just about everything to connect my Windows XP, SP3 to the tablet. Both computers are set to use the same work group name, namely MS Home but the tablet asks for a password when I’m setting up the home network. To my knowledge, Windows XP does not issue network passwords. Can you help?

Well, XP doesn’t issue network passwords… but in a sense it kind of does.

Networking is hard. This is something that can be tricky to get set up and get working. And yes, to be clear, it’s way trickier than it needs to be. I’ve written a couple of articles basically just venting about that in the past.

The good news is that I think we can get it to work.

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Leo’s magic formula

I have a plethora of different versions of Windows, and they are all talking to each other without too much of a hiccup. Now, indeed I do have my own magic formula of sorts to make that happen. I’m going to walk you through exactly what it is I do when I set up a Windows machine that I intend to have connect to and share with my other Windows machines.

To be clear, we’re talking about file sharing here. That means on one computer you create a folder and share it, and then on some other machine you attempt to connect to that folder so that you can access the files within it or place additional files inside of it.

Leo's Networking FormulaStep 1

Make sure both machines are in fact on the same network. I know that this sounds obvious, but it actually needs to be said. When you have more than one router in your system, it is very possible for you to actually have more than one network without really realizing it.

The problem, of course, is that one of the router’s jobs is to protect what’s on one side of the router from what’s on the other side of the router. I refer to this all the time as the router acting as a firewall when it protects you from what’s coming in on the internet. If you have a couple of different routers then it’s very possible you have two different networks; one of which is being “protected” from the other. That means, of course, that you won’t be able to do file sharing across the router.

Step 2

Make sure that both computers are in the same work group. You’ve done this already with MS Home. (I personally tend to use a different work group name, just because “MS Home” is the default. That then ends up acting as a kind of very small barrier. If I have guests coming into my home using my network while I’m around, then it’s not nearly as easy for them to go spelunking on my network and see what they can find, or connect to other shares on my machines.)

Step 3

This is where things get interesting: Use the same login name on both machines. I create the exact same login name on each of my Windows machines. And when I use my computers, I login to the same account name on each.

Step 4

Use the same password for that account on all of your machines. I set up that same login account on all of these machines with the same password. And this little item is one of those easy-to-overlook things.

When it comes to websites, we definitely talk about using different passwords everywhere, even if you are using the same login name. In the home, if you’ve got a bunch of machines and they’re all in your control, and you’re relatively certain that nobody’s going to walk up and start using them; or you’ve got some level of physical security associated with them (even if it’s just the fact that you know who’s in your home), using the same password can be okay. Having the same login name and password does make a number of things easier, this being one of them.

Step 5

The accounts that I’ve created on all of my machines are administrator accounts; they all have administrator privileges. I know a limited user account is the thing to do if you have concerns about the user of your machine not necessarily knowing what is safe and not to install; or to prevent malware of various forms – I get that – I really do. But it’s one of those things that actually does make life a little bit easier at the cost of just a little bit of a security risk, depending on how you use your machine and your own level of expertise.

Trade-offs

When it comes down to it, all of these things that I’ve mentioned so far (using the same username and password on all of your machines and setting up administrator accounts on all of them) are actually all little, tiny security issues. That’s why I say you’re assuming a different kind of security in some ways, and that the issues that might be caused by this are going to be relatively small.

It’s all about authentication

When you now connect from machine A to machine B, machine B needs to authenticate you somehow. It needs to confirm that you indeed have permission to connect to the share that you’re trying to connect to. How Windows does that is another one of those incredibly complex things. Even the people that understand networking deeply can get easily confused by all of the different options, all of the different techniques and all of the different things that happen when those things don’t work.

Fortunately your system will use your current login credentials on machine A as one of the things that it will test to see if you have permission on machine B. So if those same credentials exist on machine B, things just get easier.

Now, I have to throw out another one of these big, fat caveats here at the end. These techniques work really well for me, but there are no guarantees that they are going to work for you. Networking, as I’ve said, is incredibly complex and it is certainly possible that other random things can affect it.

I will say that these techniques also happen to make remote desktop access just a little bit easier, since the same issues tend to be involved.

5 comments on “How Do I Get My Windows Machines to Network with each Other?”

  1. Agreed that it can be messy, setting up such networks – so have Pe & Paper ready to note each step you take on each machine.

    Afterwards, try to write a description of what you have done and the settings on each PC.

    Makes it easier years later, when you add more PCs!

  2. Thank so much for this article.
    I had a laptop connected to an extender router, not realizing that I was therefore not really connected to the same network as my other computers.
    Now connected to the same router and all is well.

  3. There is one other part of Windows Peer-to-Peer networking that you mention in passing, but you might add to that checklist – namely that files and folders must actually be shared. I have several times run across networks set up correctly that don’t ‘work’ because nothing was actually shared.

  4. I have a mixed network of Windows and Linux machines, set up exactly as Leo describes. It all “just works.”

    As a comment, you don’t have to be logged on to all the computers. I am set up as a user on my wife’s machine, but seldom log on. I have no problem accessing the share on her system.

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