Hello, Windows networking. Hello, pain-in-the-butt. Decidedly, Microsoft attempted to fix the nightmare commonly known as Windows networking, with Windows 7. They may have, or may have not, with Homegroups.
The main goal of Windows networking is to enable multiple computers on the same network to share files to each other-so you can share your huge, gigantic, cough, legal video files to your friends and family without having to pull out a USB drive or an external hard drive. Previously, setting up a Windows network was akin to getting your teeth pulled out without anesthesia. Homegroups is Windows 7's solution to sharing your libraries, files and folders easily.
In the beta, you can only join a homegroup if you are connected to a
Home network (if you are connected to a
Public network, you cannot join a homegroup for security purposes). In order to check if you are under a
Home network, you can check in the Network and Sharing Center under the Control Panel. In here, you can also check to see if you are part of a homegroup or not. From the Control Panel, you can also access homegroup settings, either under Homegroup or "Choose homegroup and sharing options" under Network and Internet.
Following the instructions seem simple enough in the beta. You create one, select which libraries you want to share, and then Windows will give you a password. This password is needed for other computers who attempt to join the homegroup on the same network.
Working with Jason (both of us running betas of Windows 7), he would attempt to connect to my newly-created homegroup and vice versa. About half of the time, he or I would get a prompt to join the homegroup and input the password. The other half of the time, there was nada. Interestingly enough, even though sometimes it did not detect the homegroup, we were connected and showed up in each other's network in Windows Explorer. When we were finally both in the same homegroup, our libraries were not shared. We fiddled with the Homegroup tabs in Control Panel, which would randomly uncheck our shared libraries to no avail. We checked our permission settings. They were identical. We went into Windows Explorer. Right-clicking on a library and using the "Share with..." option didn't help.
Finally, it worked. The magic button, as it turns out lay on the top tab of Windows Explorer right before the "Burn" button. I was finally able to listen to some Alicia Keys. God, it was a lot of work listening to Alicia Keys.
Homegroup, for us, was not working as Microsft intended-easy-but this is still the beta. If setting up homegroups actually works as intended in the final release, the "easy networking" goal Microsoft set for themselves will be achieved. But in the meantime, it requires a lot of trial and error (much like pre-Homegroup networking) to sort out all the kinks. When homegroups was finally up and running, it was easy enough to share files. But unless Microsoft fixes this feature in the final release, the whole idea of Homegroups will be moot.