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Sharing Files in Windows 7, XP, and Vista

In this day and age, every household is equipped with more than one computer and sometimes you will be looking for ways to share files across different machines. While this is something that can be done with a thumb drive or DVD-RW, it's not always practical, especially when dealing with larger files. Moreover, there is a much more convenient alternative to sharing files in Windows XP, Vista or 7.

The best way to ensure portability of files between the computers in your household is setting up a home network and activating file sharing. This is usually done with cables connecting the network adapters on different machines, but it can also be done wirelessly. It's a fairly straightforward process in all version of Windows starting with XP, but you will find that in later versions (especially windows 7), setting up file sharing is particularly simple and intuitive.

Sharing files on a Windows XP computer

To start, you should make sure that "simple file sharing" is activated. To find this option, click on "start" and open "My computer". Check the "tools" menu and choose "Folder options" at the bottom. Now, look for the "view" tab and locate a checkbox labeled "Use Simple File Sharing (Recommended)". Make sure it's ticked on, and you're ready to begin sharing files in Windows XP.

Once you've made sure that "simple file sharing" is on, you just have to choose the folder you want to share. Just navigate outside the desired folder and right-click, then look for the option called "Sharing and Security..." and then click on the "sharing" tab. Once there, you just have to check the radio box where it says "Share this folder" and that's it. Click apply/OK and you should start seeing a shortcut to the chosen folder in your home network across all the computers in your household.

Remember, you can't just share a single file, but you can create a shared folder anywhere in your hard drive, and place all the files you want to share in there. It's not difficult at all, once you're used to it.

Sharing files on a Vista computer

Unlike with XP, simple file sharing isn't turned on by default in Windows Vista. As such, you will first have to turn it on using a similar procedure as described before. Just click the Start button, then right Click "Network" and choose "Properties" to open the Network and Sharing Center that's the handy tool you'll be using to share folders, printers and specify advanced features such as password protecting your shared folders.

Once you've reached the Network and Sharing Center window, look for the option "Manage Network connections" on the panel to the left. This will open another window detailing the network card you're currently using; once you're there, choose "Properties". You have to make sure the box titled "File and Printer sharing for Microsoft Networks" is turned on and click OK - otherwise you won't be able to share.

Now you're ready to start sharing, and all the options you need are in the Network and Sharing Center; go back there and preferably set the location type to "Private Network", to make sure only computers in your home network can access the information on the shared folders. Then scroll down to the section called "Sharing and Discovery", and turn on file sharing. Choose a password for accessing your shared folders if you want to, otherwise you can turn off password protected sharing. Click apply and OK, and you can finally close the Network and Sharing center.

In the previous steps, you've enabled Simple File Sharing and adjusted all the options, so you computers will be able to connect to one another. Now, all that's left to do is specify which folders you want to Share. This is pretty simple; just navigate outside the folder you want to share and right-click on it and look for the "Share..." option. In this menu, you can also specify access permissions, to determine who you want to grant access to the shared folder. That's it!

Sharing files in Windows 7

The procedure to share files on Windows 7 is very similar to the one used in Windows Vista, so you can refer to the previous section for details. Here's a summary:

Make sure that Sharing and Discovery is on: Go to start, then open your Control Panel and look for "Network and Sharing center". When you're there, look for the section titled "Sharing and Discovery", and make sure Network discovery is enabled, as well as File Sharing, Public folder sharing as well as other options you may find useful.

Once Sharing and Discovery is on and you've connected the computers with a cable plugged in to the network cards or via wireless, you should be ready to go! Windows 7 really does make file sharing simpler.

You can place the files and folders you want to share in the Public folder in "My Computer", or otherwise you can navigate outside any folder you want to share, right click on it, and look for the option "Share..."; once you've activated this option, the chosen folder should start showing up in "My Network" within "My Computer".

Additional File Sharing advice/troubleshooting:

  • Make sure all the computers in your home network are set to using the same WorkGroup / Home Network, otherwise your computers may not be able to connect to one another.
  • Make sure that each computer in your network is assigned a different name, or they may conflict with one another.
  • Check the cables connecting the network cards in your computers, make sure everything is plugged in as it should. If you're trying to share files via wireless, make sure it's turned on.
  • For best results and less trouble, you should use the same version of Windows in all your computers.

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