For the average person, networking and security are two of the biggest causes of OS-related headaches, with so many settings, devices, alerts and threats to stay on top of. With Windows 7, Microsoft attempts a more useful approach to family networking with HomeGroup. It expands its security options, too, but does it with more concern for user-friendliness than during Vista development.
Microsoft has tried simplifying its networking solutions overall in Windows 7, added more home-user features, and redesigned certain basic networking interfaces so that they actually kinda make sense.
Connecting to new wireless networks is something that has been made significantly easier in Windows 7. In the taskbar's notifications tray, there is a wireless signal icon just like in past Windows versions. But clicking on it now brings up a list of available networks around you. You can connect to an unsecure network, or enter in your security code on a secure network and hit the Connect button. Disconnecting is just as easy.
HomeGroup is intended as an easy way for multiple computers on the same network to share their files, folders and smart content clusters known as libraries. Properly implemented, HomeGroup could be a step closer to brainless networking, and it makes sense for families.
If you access the HomeGroup tab in the Control Panel, you will be presented with the option (in theory) to create a new homegroup or join a currently existing homegroup. After creating a new homegroup, Windows asks you what libraries you want to share, and gives you a password for other computers on the network who want to join your homegroup. When the new PCs jump on the network, they get prompted to join the homegroup, and are asked for the password.
The strange thing is, other devices will still show up under the general network even if they are not necessarily connected to your homegroup. So while the tool does seem to simplify things, it may not be the last word when it comes to security. We experienced some hiccups in our trials of HomeGroup in Win 7 beta, so we have to see it in the final release to really identify whether it's going to work as billed or not.
[More HomeGroup details and images]