Windows 7 in-depth review and video: This time Microsoft gets it right

In his hands-on review of the Windows 7 pre-beta, Preston Gralla decides that Microsoft's upcoming OS shows great promise.

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Networking and Homegroup

Windows 7 has improved on Vista networking, overhauled the Network and Sharing Center, and debuted a new feature called Homegroup that makes it much easier to share files, folders and devices with other people and machines on your home network.

The new Network and Sharing Center offers a more streamlined interface with fewer confusing options for setting up sharing. It displays a better-organized set of links for accomplishing network-related tasks and offers a way for you to immediately see the most important information about your network, such as its type, its name, the state of its connection and so on.

Most important is the addition of what's called a Homegroup. Designed for home networks, a Homegroup makes it easier to share files, folders and devices such as printers with computers on your network. Homegroups work only if you designate your network as Home; if it's a Work or a Public network, the feature won't appear.

When you create a Homegroup, you specify which files, folders, and devices you want to share, and create a password so that only people with that password can join the Homegroup. A particularly useful feature is the ability to easily designate which files and folders to share and which to keep private.

That way, if you use the same laptop for home and office, for example, you can keep your work files private when you're at home. In addition, when you come home from work, you won't need to fiddle with changing your default printer; when you join your Homegroup, you'll automatically use your home printer.

Document sharing is much improved as well. You can much more easily share files with others. Vista and XP force you to go through menus and options screens to customize file sharing, often forcing you to figure out how to configure permissions -- a task not for the weak-hearted. Windows 7 makes that much easier.

Right-click a folder or file, and from the menu that appears, select "Share with." You'll see a menu that offers sharing options, such as sharing with a Homegroup, disallowing sharing, or sharing with specific people.

Windows 7

The new Network and Sharing Center offers a way to immediately see important information about your network. Click to view larger image.

In addition, wireless networking has been tweaked so that you can connect to a network with fewer clicks. The wireless networking icon in the system tray displays a small star on it when wireless networks are available. Click it, and a list of available networks appears. Click a network, and a small Connect button appears.

Video: Wireless connectivity in Windows 7

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