FRAMINGHAM, 21 JANUARY 2011 - Though Microsoft (MSFT) doesn't make a big deal of Windows 7's many networking improvements and new features, they offer a fine reason to upgrade from XP. There used to be many reasons to skip migrating to Windows 7; but as the operating system matures and XP ages, Windows 7 is becoming a worthwhile update.
For starters, Internet Explorer 9--arguably Microsoft's best Web browser ever--will work only on Windows 7. On the other hand, we currently have lots of excellent Web browser choices, so the promise of IE 9 alone may not be enough to tempt you.
Fortunately, Windows 7 has lots of other excellent networking features that you shouldn't overlook. Here's a closer look at what these capabilities mean for consumers and businesses.
Windows 7 Libraries are meta-folders that let you gather files from multiple sources, including network files and directories, into a single folder view. Libraries are also a way of organizing folders to simplify finding, sorting, and manipulating files that have common content sets. For example, you can have one library for all your photos even if they're scattered across your PC, your spouse's laptop, and a network-attached storage (NAS) drive.
By default, Windows 7 comes with four "local" Libraries: Documents, Music, Photos, and Videos. These are its take on the former My Documents folder that earlier editions of Windows used. The key difference is that in a Windows 7 library, the actual files can be anywhere on your computer or network. Once you've entered a photo's locations in the Photos Library, you don't need to worry about it anymore. Photos located in any of the various directories will automatically appear in your Photos Library. The same is true of any other kind of file that you track with a Library
With HomeGroup, Microsoft's latest take on peer-to-peer networking, you or a network administrator can make Libraries available to other Windows 7 users.For example, if you choose to let others access your Original Photos archive, you can make it a publicly available folder so that other people on the network can access the photos in it. HomeGroup also lets you share printers.
Microsoft improved this style of networking in several ways this time around. First, HomeGroup requires password security before PCs can be connected to the network. Once such security is in place, you can require users to enter a password before accessing HomeGroup files. In the past, Windows was far too lax about letting users set up home networks that were wide open to anyone who sat down at a PC.
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