Windows XP is without a doubt the easiest operating system in a long list of many from Microsoft for networking - It is much easier than most tend to believe - More specifically home networking, which is what we will be focusing on today in this beginner guide here at TweakTown.
While most of the content of this guide is straight forward enough for the average Windows user to figure out, I've published this guide to demonstrate just how easy it is to setup your own network of two or more computers at home and how fun it can be, not to mention cost effective because of features like Internet and Printer Sharing. I'll be mentioning things like suggested hardware for the server PC for example; the guide isn't just limited to software guidance. It's worth noting that because Microsoft did such a good job with XP and it's networking, no third party software is required to execute such services as Internet and Printer Sharing. Just set a couple of DNS and gateway entries and we are home and hosed. I'll be demonstrating just how easy this is shortly!
Quick History Lesson
- Windows 3.1 and 3.11
Before we get into the tasty stuff, for the first course we'll have a brief history lesson, you all loved history classes at school right... For some, this may be just as boring as ancient Egyptian temples or great Roman empires. Let's start with Windows 3.1 even though it wasn't Microsoft's first "operating system", anything before that I was too young to have anything to deal with or remember for that matter.
Windows 3.1 was a total disaster for networking; network protocols of this operating system were rather inferior by that of today's standards, and often involved third party add ons. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that it was released around 10 to 12 years ago, time does indeed fly as technology improves. Microsoft also released Windows 3.11 for Workgroups around the same time but we didn't see anything spectacular here either on the networking front, other than Microsoft beginning to bundle working file sharing protocols with their OS'.
- Windows 95
Then we hit the 32-bit world of computing with Windows 95 being released in August of 1995, just after the release of Windows NT 3.51, which was the first real 32-bit version of Windows while 95 was in the least technical terms a mixture between 16 and 32-bit coding. Boy what a time that was to be living in the technological age. Just look what it has done for general computing these days; there'd be no chance in seeing 64-bit operations in the near future if Windows 95 or NT were never conceived, even if they were buggy as hell. While it had dramatic changes and improvements in networking and it's protocols and services, Windows 95 networking still was, by today's standards, not nearly as advanced or simple enough to manage for the home user.
- Windows NT 4.0
Almost exactly a year later, Windows NT 4.0 was released, with major patches and service packs following. Windows NT 4.0 had the look and feel of Windows 95. Windows NT contains advanced security features, better multitasking support, user administration and much more with an emphasis on networking for the business user. It was far superior when compared to 95 and 98 in this area, but it wasn't exactly appropriate for home users because of it's complexity. NT is an advanced operating system, but it lacked the driver and gaming support that Windows 95 and Windows 98 possessed.
- Windows 98 and Millennium
Next in line is Windows 98 and Millennium, which were released three and two years after Windows 95 respectively. Windows 98, excluding NT, was the first real 32-bit version of Windows with full 32-bit coding and not a mixture of both as with Windows 95, but still had quite a bit of 16-bit coding. While there were small improvements in networking features of 98, it still remained largely similar to 95. To help the cash flow some more (not that would be a problem right?) Microsoft released the "Second Edition" of Windows 98, known as Windows 98 SE or "Sucky Edition" to those who eXPerienced problems. The difference over 98 was marginal; basically SE offered bug fixes in some networking protocols. Nothing was really changed to make the setup of the network easier, compared to 98.
- Windows 2000
In February of 2000 Microsoft released Windows 2000. It was based on the Windows NT Kernel and sometimes referred to as Windows NT 5.0. Windows 2000 had very advanced networking options; still it could have been made easier to set up.
- Windows XP
Finally we enter the wonderful world of eXPerience, Windows XP that is of course! Windows XP, in both Professional and Home flavors, on the networking side of things, is a beautiful mix of NT and 2000 networking but with a much more desirable and easier to use user interface. Basically this all accumulates to what networking should be, for home and small business networks at least. Microsoft has hit what I consider the sweet spot of home networking perfection. Not only this, they've effectively effectively cured the myth that networking is a tedious task and a difficult one to master - The last few comments may make you believe I'm a Microsoft rep, maybe they'll consider me for employment... Now that we've finished with the history lesson, we are set to move onto the more tasty stuff I promised you earlier.