Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

I express my despair for the state of networking for "average" computer users these days.

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This is Leo Notenboom with news, commentary and answers to some of the many questions I get at askleo.info.

One of the areas that I find myself actually avoiding these days when answering questions on Ask Leo! is local area networking. I have an article or two covering the basics, but more and more "regular people" are starting to ask more and more of their home and small business networks.

The problem is that, well ... networking sucks. Networking Windows machine together remains incredibly difficult for the average user. Making a connection that is both secure and flexible - two concepts that are inherently at odds with each other from the start - is a very common stumbling block.

There are no simple solutions. Things like the network setup wizard work, sort of, in common cases. But even though it sounds contradictory, those common cases are becoming less and less common.

It seems like almost everything impacts networking. Operating system versions, or even variations between flavors like Home and Pro. Workgroup names. Obscure Windows settings. Firewalls installed, or not, enabled, or not. Access points, routers and broadband modems that act as routers. Everything from cabling, to nitty-gritty protocol quirks will sometimes stymie even the most patient user.

And yes, like many of my readers, I to have spent multiple hours trying to get one system to connect to both another system and the internet at the same time. Without much success - though I do understand now why: in my case it happened to be a DSL modem that was unexpectedly also acting as a router. The prognosis for everyday folk in similar scenarios, which are slowly becoming more common, is pretty darned bleak.

Some things are getting better. Wireless networking, for example, has made great strides over the past few years. For average users, it's gone from being "nearly impossible" to merely "difficult" in that time.

Yes, I do plan to address networking, but it'll be a long and difficult process to explain in layman's terms. And even then, that layman will have to be very, very patient.

I'd love to hear what you think Visit ask leo dot info, and enter 9309 in the go to article number box. Leave a comment, I read them all.

This is a presentation of askleo.info, a free on-line technical question and answer service. Hundreds of questions and answers are online and ready to help solve your computer problems. New questions and answers are added daily.

That's askleo.info.

Article C2441 - October 20, 2005 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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14 Comments
Andrew
October 21, 2005 5:59 PM

Thanks for a very interesting program

Andrew Smith

Auckland

New Zealand

Larry
November 4, 2005 11:51 PM

I agree! It seems that networking software has
become more user friendly in the recent couple of
years, but networking multiple OSs can still be
daunting. We have multiple WinXP systems,
Linux, and Mac computers successfully networked,
but it has taken many, many hours to get them
to a harmonious state. Please take up the task
of explaining, in simple terms, the process(es)
of networking for those of us who are most
interested of USING a network instead of
tinkering. I'll be eagerly listening.

Alex Johnson
June 25, 2006 8:31 PM

Networking does suck.

I never know where to turn when things go wrong. When I call up Linksys or D-link or Comcast or Verizon or any of the major company's "help" lines they only give me very basic advice like "upgrade your router's firmware" or "make sure you don't have any viruses" and then they hang up and leave me staring at the same problems I've been having for years. DNS servers randomly becoming unavailable... Random computers on my home network locking up everybody else's connections. Firewall logs that don't make any sense. Games that suddenly skyrocket to 2000 ping with 70% packet loss. Routers that lock up. That aggrivating little "limited or no networking connectivity" message. I just want it all to work. What's even more frustrating to me is that I'm the most tech savvy of the 6 people in my residence and the other 5 rely on me to solve their computer problems. When unexplainable things occur on the network I have NOBODY to turn to. Networking issues have driven me to tears more than once... Right now I'm struggling with some sort of network congestion issue without any clue as to what's going on. I tried googling a few things and found this podcast. It made me feel better knowing that even people that are supposed to know what's going on struggle with this stuff at times.

What I'd really like to see is a guide that covers more advanced topics involving obscure commands and settings, but still follows a "try this. Now try this. Now try this." approach instead of confusing me with 15 different things to keep track of at the same time. I need answers and all I ever get is more headaches.

Aaaaaaaarrrrrrrrgggggghhhhhhhh,
Alex Johnson

John
May 13, 2008 12:42 PM

I just recently learned how to network XP & Vista.
It took me a week to figure out what to do.
The easy step is to go into your router and turn
off the security and let your laptop pick up
the signal and then turn the security back on.
Im still a novice in networking but yeah
at times it can be a real pain to figure out.

Sheryl Spencer
November 14, 2009 11:03 AM

I'm in the process of setting up my first home network and so far it has been fairly easy, except for one major (or minor to those who know what to do) stumbling block. I have a Vista Home desktop, XP Pro laptop, Linksys WRT54GL router and Arris cable modem. I can see XP on Vista, but when I try to go to Vista through XP, it wants a user name and password. I never had the pw set up on Vista so I created one, but it won't accept it.

I've tried using various other user names and passwords, such as from passport (hotmail) and I've even tried leaving it blank, but it still won't work. I did notice that after I type it (user name and pw) in and hit enter, it adds the name of my computer, Home-PC, to the user name field. I can turn off password protection in the "Network and Sharing center" but I don't really want to do that because, obviously, I want protection. I'm wishing now that I would have went with the Vista upgrade, because (among other reasons) I could have simply turned on remote desktop, at least I think.

Another quirk is I can't see XP in Vista's network map and I did try to dl the LLTD patch for that protocol but it says I already have it installed. I named the computers different and gave them the same workgroup name. I'll still keep looking for the answers and if I find them I'll post them here, but if you (or anyone reading this) can help solve these issues, I'd seriously appreciate it! What's funny is I don't even really "need" the computers to network, I mainly just wanted the laptop on the net so I wouldn't have to sit at my desktop. But, now that I can't figure this out, it makes me want to do it that much more!

Peter Jennett
April 28, 2011 12:31 AM

I have 3 networked machines, two running XP SP3, and one running Win 7 Home Premium. I am running a home network, not a Homegroup. If I go into Windows Explorer, my XP machines can see the Win 7 machine in the network and copy files between shared folders, but if I do the same on the Win 7 machine, Explorer does not see the two XP machines at all.
However, if I go to Command prompt on the Win 7 machine, and do a command line file copy from a Win 7 folder to a shared folder on one of the XP machines the copy is successful, so the network connection is obviously working. Any ideas why does Explorer on Win 7 not show the XP machines as part of the network, although the connection is there, else the command line copy between machines would not work. Aaargh, frustrating :)

Joseph
May 26, 2011 5:38 AM

Leo, I would welcome a tutorial on networking.
I have studied networking in mid-80s but I did not put my knowledge to practice. Now I am almost 74 years old and you have whetted my apetite.
Thanks for your very interesting newsletters.
O.S. here Ububtu mainly. Also have Windows XP and, yes, Win98se !!!

GeorgeB
July 12, 2011 10:57 AM

Best solution to my Vista problems was to chuck it in the trash and go to Win 7 Pro. No more problems other than reading about changes etc. Vista was a hateful joke, especially the Home version

Arlene
November 22, 2011 8:25 AM

I gave up on Windows XP to Vista to Windows 7 and took a different approach. I dragged anything I wanted to share into the corresponding Public folder and it worked. You can find your Public folder and Public subfolders under your C:\Users\Public folder. That said, using Public folders is not the default and using these folders rather than the default ones can come back to bite you in relation to other software you might be trying to use that is looking for things in the default locations.

Phillip
November 22, 2011 10:57 AM

Maybe bypass Windows security with a network drive? Any networked computer should be able to access it.

Nils Torben
November 23, 2011 12:45 AM

The problem with networking is that it is all a mess. Mixed up with Windows' neurotic security politics the whole thing is confusing and difficult to overview.
The idea of GUI (Graphic User Interface) was, that the user should not need to be an ingeneer to use a computer, and that is fine - as long as it works. Which it does not... Then comes a double need to be your own computer engineer, and you have a hard time trying to find and understand the concepts being behind. Windows Help comes out with a bunch of weird names, mostly undefined and is a very little help indeed.
What is a Network Bridge? What is DDE share? What is a port? Then some day you get the advice to run cmd (command prompt - oops wasn't it a GUI?) and type ipconfig /all, and a new set of undefined denotions turn up. What the hell is a DNS-suffix? Subnet mask?? Node type?? IP-routing? wins-proxy?? And the system acts like that is something all folks know what is.
How has communication between computers become like this? I suppose it is a result of lack of planning combined with random ideas and general clumsyness.
We are in a state of confusion and we are happy, when things work despite that we usually don't know why...

Nigel
December 24, 2011 7:35 AM

I would love more info on networking too. I know a little, which gets me through at home and helping out others, but it would be nice to have a real idea of what is going on rather than 'fiddling' till it works!

John H
April 13, 2012 12:24 PM

The reason Dropbox is popular is because it bypasses all the Microsofts inept Networking garbage.

Alexander Ewering
May 18, 2012 2:16 AM

Even though this article is stone-old, it's still very current.

And now that we have Windows 7, add to all this an inexplicable, paranoid security system, and most importantly, an incredibly convoluted, labyrinthesque user interface to the networking subsystem, and even advanced system administrators like myself are completely baffled.

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