Friday, April 2, 2010

Windows 7 Up-Close: HomeGroup

This information applies to the following Windows 7 Editions: Starter (Join only), Home Basic (Join only), Home Premium, Professional, Ultimate, and Enterprise

New to Windows 7 is a unique feature called HomeGroup.  This little feature will help even the most novice of users with the task of networking two or more PCs.  Using HomeGroup users will be able to share Documents, Videos, Music, Pictures, and Printers (among some other devices) across a network easily and with virtually no networking experience.


If you are currently connected to either a wired or wireless network with two or more PCs you can easily setup a HomeGroup between these computers.  The setup is relatively simple and pain-free, for the most part.  If you are having issues you may want to check out my section titled A Few Showstopper Experiences. Throughout this section I will detail how to first setup up a HomeGroup and then add devices to the HomeGroup.  If you feel even braver I’ll also detail how to change some of the default settings, such as changing the password, changing the default file locations, and enabling streaming video, music, and pictures over HomeGroup.  The last of these is probably my favorite feature of HomeGroup, but we’ll get to that one later.


First, What You Can Do With HomeGroup

HomeGroup offers some pretty slick features that previously were only available to those who had experience in networking PCs. Not only can you just share documents, but you can also stream videos and music from one PC to another, thus your dreams of a Home Server just became true.

Setting Up a HomeGroup

Setting up a HomeGroup is a fairly straightforward process, Microsoft asks a couple questions and then it gives you a password and allows you to connect other PCs to the HomeGroup.

In this section and all sections, you can simply click on the screenshot to enlarge it. I haven’t figured out how to add larger images to Blogger yet, so this is the current workaround.

First and foremost, you must open up the HomeGroup Control Panel App.  Simply open up your start menu and type homegroup this will bring up a few different links, the first and topmost link will be the one you’re after.  Simply click on this to continue.




The first screen titled Share with other home computers running Windows 7 includes information on HomeGroup, along with links to different sections, such as advanced sharing options, HomeGroup troubleshooter, and further information on HomeGroups. You can also just start immediately by clicking Create a homegroup.


Question: What’s up with the multiple spellings of HomeGroup from Microsoft? I actually don’t have an answer for that one. I believe the official spelling is HomeGroup, but I’ve seen it as Homegroup, homegroup, and HomeGroup. Throughout this article I try my best to use HomeGroup, although if I’m telling you to click on something, such as the link above, I will use the actual spelling that Microsoft uses. You can see in the above screenshot what I mean by this. HomeGroup



At this screen simply choose what files to share over the HomeGroup, i.e. Pictures, Music, Videos, Documents, and Printers.  By default Windows 7 takes the files from your default Pictures, Music, Videos, and Documents folders.  These settings can always be changed later, for more information check out my Extras section.




The next screen will produce a progress bar, this screen should only take a few seconds to go through, depending on your network speed though, it may take a little longer.




Windows 7 will automatically create a HomeGroup password; however this can always be changed later to whatever you please.  For now just use the default password to continue the setup.  Don’t worry, if you don’t write this password down you can always retrieve by clicking View HomeGroup Password at the default HomeGroup window.




Once the walkthrough is finished you will be presented with the above screen.


Joining Another Computer to HomeGroup

Once you’ve actually setup a HomeGroup you will need to add devices to it to actually make it work the way it was meant to. 


Tip:  You do not have to add the device that you set HomeGroup up on, that device is already added to HomeGroup and already recognizes it. It will actually become the primary networking device for the HomeGroup.



To add another device, such as a laptop or other desktop, simply start by opening up the HomeGroup Control Panel App.  The easiest way to do this is to simply open up the start menu and type homegroup it should be the first item on the list, click that a screen with the title Share with other home computers running Windows 7.  Click on Join now to continue.




Once again you must choose what files to share across the HomeGroup.  Simply check which of the five categories you would like to share and click Next.




Now you have to provide a password to connect to the HomeGroup.  This is the same password that was given earlier when you first setup the HomeGroup.  If you are unsure what it is simply go to the original PC (the one you initially set HomeGroup up on) and open up the HomeGroup Control Panel App and click on View or print my homegroup password.  Once you have the password enter it in and click Next.




Windows 7 will take a few moments to setup your preferences.  This may or may not take a little while depending on your network and computer speed.




Finally you will see this screen, you have now successfully added that device to the HomeGroup.  To add others just repeat this process on those computers.


Some hiccups that may cause HomeGroup to not recognize devices

One of the biggest problems that may arise while setting up HomeGroup is that one of your computers may not recognize that there is a HomeGroup setup.  This is typically caused by not having your computer setup for Network Discovery.  You will also have to ensure that file and printer sharing is turned on as well.  How can you tell?  Simply open the start menu and type “Network and sharing center” click on the first link that appears and you will be directed to the Network and Sharing Center.  On the pane at the left side of the window there should be an option labeled Change advanced sharing settings, click this.  Simply make sure that Network Discovery is turned on and file and printer sharing are turned on and you should be all set.

Warning:  If you turn on Network Discovery make sure you are not connected to a public network (i.e. an Internet CafĂ©).  The same applies for File and Printer sharing. Actually, you probably shouldn’t be setting up a HomeGroup on a public network in the first place, so just make sure you’re on your own private network before setting one up.

Configuring a HomeGroup

Of course, there is more to Homegroup than just setting it up, that was the easy part.  Actually the rest is fairly easy and unless you like tweaking settings you may not even need to read this section.  If you are a tweaker then continue on.  In this section I will go over a few basic ways to change some of the default settings for a HomeGroup such as changing the password, changing the default file locations, and how to stream your music, videos, and pictures.


Changing the HomeGroup Password

To start this process simply open up the HomeGroup control panel app you can do this either by going to control panel or by opening the start menu and typing Homegroup.  Once again the first link to appear is the one you want.


Once you see the HomeGroup screen choose Change the password.  You may have a UAC prompt asking if you would like to continue, click Yes.  Then you will be asked if you would like to change the password, Yes again.  Now simply change your password and all will be said and done.


Change the Default File Locations (or adding file/folder locations)

Adding file locations to a HomeGroup is quite simple as well.  Here’s a brief walkthrough on how to do just that.


Open up Computer or an Explorer window.  Navigate to the folder you would like to share, click on the folder and then from the menu click Share with.  You get three options, nobody, homegroup (read), and homegroup (read/write).  Simply choose one of the two HomeGroup options and you’re done.  See the screenshot below for more reference.




Stream Music, Videos, and Pictures

This is one of the coolest features of HomeGroup, in fact this may be the best functionality of the entire feature-set.  Through streaming you will be able to listen to your music, watch your videos, and view your pictures with any PC on your home network without actually having the data on that particular PC.  What does this mean?  Essentially this means that you can store all of your media in one specific location and access it with any PC on the network.


First and foremost, you must make sure that you enable streaming on your PC:




Open up HomeGroup settings (Start Menu, type homegroup). Streaming is enabled when the box under Share media with devices is checked.


Streaming Music with Windows Media Player

Yet another option for users of HomeGroup is to stream music from one computer to another. This can be very useful if you have a somewhat large music collection and just want to leave it on one of your desktops. This enables you to carry a laptop around, or other devices, and seamlessly stream music or videos to the device.




To stream music simply open up Windows Media Player. Computers with streaming available may be found on the bottom of the left pane in Windows Media Player.




A typical screen when the computer is searching for media. This can take a while or be very quickly, it really depends on the connection and how much music is stored on the other computer.




Music appears just as it would on the default machine.  You can also organize it just as you would on the default machine.


A few show-stopper experiences

If you are having issues with joining a HomeGroup or even setting one up then your problem may involve one or more of the following:


File and Network Sharing is turned off.  You must have this feature enabled in order to see/join a HomeGroup.  Simply open up the Network and Sharing Center found in the Control Panel (you can also open up the start menu and type Network and sharing center the first link that shows up will be the one to click on).  Your screen should look like the one below.



Computer names are in the wrong format or are the same.  Make sure that your computer names are not the same, also remember that Windows does not see a difference between capital and lowercase computer names.  So, if your computer name on one computer is my-pc and is My-PC on the other Windows will see both as MY-PC and not make a distinction thus nulling out your hard work on creating a network.


If all else fails. Don’t worry, there’s probably some simple solution out there. If you have any further questions you can check out the MSDN forums. I highly recommend anyone who has questions about Windows, Office, or really any Microsoft product, to check this forum out and get some help. I’m also available for e-mails if you’d like a question answered directly from me. Although HomeGroup is a fairly useful program, this is its first release, so there may be a couple bugs at first here and there.


What it boils down to

Windows 7 Homegroup will add significant functionality to your wireless or wired home network.  Although it will not produce a full-fledged network such as a Windows Server based or even Windows Home Server based network it will give users who use their PCs for simple tasks such as listening to music, watching videos, or viewing pictures an easy alternative to setting up an advanced network.  I’ll continue updating all of my Up-Close articles as I find it appropriate, so check back for updates!


As always, you can contact me via Twitter (@jctierney) or leave a comment below. I’ve also started a new e-mail address for this site, tinkeringwithwindows @ live dot com. Feel free to drop me a line every now and then. I welcome anyone who has a question, comment, suggestion, etc. to feel free to e-mail me at that address.



Anonymous said...

thanx 4 this article. I have 1 problem: win 7 starter - I check to ON the Turn On Network Discovery. I click Save. Avance Sharing Settings closes, but when I open it again the option is OFF. I can;t see other computers in netwrk (win xp) and I think of praying to God. He doesn;t help.

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