Teach XP and Vista to play nice on networks

It takes some manual tweaking to get a mixed Vista/XP network to work properly

On small office and home office networks, Windows XP and Windows Vista cooperate about as well as cats and dogs. But you can teach them to get along.

When you combine Windows XP and Windows Vista PCs on the same peer-to-peer network, such as you might have at home or a small office, you may run into all kinds of problems. It may be difficult for your Windows Vista PCs to find your Windows XP PCs, and vice versa.

And the Windows Vista Network Map -- which may be the best networking feature Microsoft has ever introduced into Windows -- won't work properly with XP PCs. They won't show up properly on the network map, if they even show up at all.

Fixing workgroup woes

The first problem is that the default name for your workgroup on the network has been changed from Windows XP to Windows Vista. In Windows XP, the default name for the network is Mshome; in Windows Vista, it is Workgroup.

The fix for this problem is easy; you can change the name of the workgroup on Windows XP to match the name of your Windows Vista network. On Windows XP, right-click My Computer, click the Computer Name tab, then click Change. The screen shown nearby appears. In the Workgroup box, type in the name of your Windows Vista network name. If you're leaving it as the default used in Windows Vista, type in Workgroup. If you're not using the Windows Vista default, change it to whatever name you've given your Windows Vista network and click OK.

Changing the name of your workgroup in Windows XP
 
Changing the name of your workgroup in Windows XP (Click image to see larger view)

After you click OK, you'll see the confirmation dialog shown in the figure below. Click OK again, then restart your PC.

Success -- you've changed your workgroup name
 
Success -- you've changed your workgroup name

You can, instead, give your Windows XP and Windows Vista machines both new workgroup names, as long as they match. To change the name of your workgroup in Windows Vista, right-click Computer and select Properties. You'll see the name of your PC as well as its workgroup name. Click Change Settings, then from the screen that appears, click Change. In the dialog box, shown in the figure below, type in the new name for your workgroup and click OK.

Changing the name of your workgroup in Windows Vista
 
Changing the name of your workgroup in Windows Vista (Click image to see larger view)

As with Windows XP, you'll get a confirmation that the name has been changed. You'll have to restart your PC for the changes to go into effect.

Patching Windows XP for Vista network compatibility

Making sure that both Windows XP and Windows Vista are on the same workgroup will go part way toward making the PCs get along on your network, but won't go all the way. A bigger problem has to do with the new Windows Vista network map.

The network map is possibly the best addition it comes to networking that Windows Vista has made. To get there, select Control Panel --> Network and Internet --> Network and Sharing Center --> View full map. A screen like one below appears.

Windows Vista's network map
 
Windows Vista's network map (Click image to see larger view)

The map shows you all the PCs and devices attached to your network -- those in your entire network, not just your workgroup. This map is more than nice to look at; it's extremely useful as well. Hover your mouse over any device, and you'll be shown information about it, such as its name, IP address and MAC address, as shown in the figure below. Click a PC and you'll connect to it.

This shows how hovering over any device on your network will bring up a window with details about the device
 
This shows how hovering over any device on your network will bring up a window with details about the device (Click image to see larger view)

There's a rub, though. Look at the bottom of the screen in the network map Vista drew of our network. You'll see a number of devices listed. Windows Vista has found them, but doesn't quite know what to make of them. It can't figure out where they fit in on the network. And it won't give you any information about them if you hover your mouse over them.

The problem is that to discover information about devices, Windows Vista uses a new protocol, called Link Layer Topology Discovery. LLTD is built into any Windows Vista PC, which is why they show up properly on the network map. However, LLTD isn't built into Windows XP, which is why they don't show up properly.

You can fix the problem by downloading and installing the Layer Topology Discovery Responder. Install it and your Windows XP PC will show up on the network map, properly located, with the mouse hover in full working order, as you can see in the figure below.

An XP computer now can be placed directly on the network map
 
An XP computer now can be placed directly on the network map (Click image to see larger view)

Preston Gralla is a contributing editor for Computerworld, and the author of more than 35 books, including Windows Vista in a Nutshell.

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