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Project #4: Boost Your Network

Fix Vista-XP Network Glitches

If your network has both Vista and XP machines, the PCs might not get along very well. One problem is that by default Vista and XP use different workgroup names: 'Workgroup' in Vista and 'Mshome' in XP. As a result, the systems may not be able to find one another.

To rename the workgroup on the XP PCs, right-click My Computer, select Properties, Computer Name, Change, and type Workgroup under 'Workgroup' near the bottom of the screen. Click OK twice.

Map Your Network

Vista's Network and Sharing Center shows info about all of the devices on your network, including their MAC and IP addresses. Click Start, Control Panel (Start, Settings, Control Panel on the Classic Start menu), Network and Internet, Network and Sharing Center, View full map. Hold the mouse over a device to see its IP and MAC addresses (see FIGURE 5

FIGURE 5: Identify your network devices using Vista's Network and Sharing Center.
).

Non-Vista PCs take forever to show up, if they appear at all, and even then they're listed at the bottom of the page, off the map. The new protocol that Vista uses to map the network will eventually be available for XP, but Microsoft isn't saying when.

Add VPN to Any Hotspot

When you're at a public Wi-Fi hotspot, anyone with the right software can monitor everything you do online. To protect yourself, connect via a virtual private network, which establishes a tunnel of sorts through which your data travels. My favorite VPN service is HotspotVPN, which works with the VPN features built into XP and Vista. The service costs $9 a month, or you can obtain one-, three-, or seven-day access for $4, $6, or $7, respectively. A version of the service with an added level of encryption costs between $11 and $14 per month.

When you subscribe, you get a user name, a password, and the IP address of a wireless VPN server. Enter this information when you run the Windows network connection wizard: In XP, choose Start, Control Panel (or Start, Settings, Control Panel on the Classic Start menu), Network Connections, Create a new connection, Next, Connect to the network at my workplace, Next, Virtual Private Network connection, and complete the wizard.

In Vista, choose Start, Control Panel (or Start, Settings, Control Panel on the Classic Start menu), View network status and tasks (Network and Sharing Center in the Classic View). Select Set up a connection or network, double-click Connect to a workplace, choose Use my Internet connection (VPN), and complete the wizard.

Set Wireless Encryption

Every home or small-office wireless network needs Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) encryption to keep would-be interlopers out. If your network doesn't support WPA, it's time for an upgrade. The steps for setting up WPA vary from router to router; these instructions are for the Linksys WRT54GX4.

First, log in to your router administrator screen, click the Wireless link, and choose Wireless Security. Select WPA as your encryption method in the drop-down list, type in an encryption key, and write the key down on a slip of paper; you'll need to enter it when logging in to the network from other PCs. Click Save Settings.

Afterward you'll have to set up encryption on each of your PCs, using the same key as you used in the router. On each Windows XP PC, click the wireless-connection icon in the system tray and choose Properties. Select the Wireless Networks tab, highlight your network, click Properties, and choose the Association tab. In the Network Authentication drop-down menu, select your encryption method. In the 'Data encryption' dialog box, choose TKIP. Uncheck The key is provided for me automatically. Enter your WPA key in the 'Network key' box, and type it again in the 'Confirm network key' box. Click OK twice. The PC can now connect to your network.

In Vista, choose Start, Control Panel (or Start, Settings, Control Panel on the Classic Start menu), Network and Internet, Network and Sharing Center, Manage Wireless Networks. Right-click your wireless network connection, select Properties, and click the Security tab. In the 'Security type' drop-down menu, choose WPA2-Personal, and in the 'Encryption type' drop-down, choose TKIP. Enter your WPA key in the 'Network security key' box and click OK.

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