Visual Tour: 20 Things You Won't Like About Windows Vista

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15. Some first-blush networking peeves.
Within the first five minutes of checking out Vista's new networking functionality, the first two things you may notice are:

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It's hard to find: the network stack.
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  1. You can't access Network Connections by right-clicking the Network icon (previously My Network Places) on the desktop and choosing Properties. Maybe you didn't use a Network icon on the desktop. But if you did, that was the quickest way to get to the network stack.

  2. The new network stack adds IPv6 and two network layers aimed at supporting Vista's networking "discovery" features. When it comes to networking, more layers are usually not better. Simpler is usually better. The optional IPv6 networking offered by Microsoft for Windows XP (which was at one point called the "Advanced Networking Pack") was truly an adventure, and not in a good way. This version of IPv6 does not appear to be following in those footsteps. The bad news is that a lot of the promised improvements to Windows networking didn't suddenly materialize with IPv6 support either.

14. Windows peer networking is still balky.
In the main Network folder, where you expect to find shared objects or workstations that offer shared items, the "View Workgroup Computers" option is missing. Since Vista no longer attempts to show actual shared drives, folders, printers and so on, but makes you click through the top level of each connected computer on the network, it would seem that "View Workgroup Computers" option is no longer needed. In fact, this change to begin with visible computers on the network (instead of listing all shared resources Windows has detected in the past) is good, and will cut way down on the number of times you try open a network-shared device and have to wait through a timeout because that computer isn't currently turned on or visible to the network.

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Vista's new Network Center.
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But there's a problem. Windows is still balky about displaying newly arrived computers on the network. The problem is especially apparent the first time you boot a new computer on your network. It can only see itself, sometimes for several hours, unless you find a way to give it a swift kick. Despite the new network stack and all the special new networking extras, under it all the same problems exist.

So, while Windows XP's "View Workgroup Computers" isn't needed from a perfect UI perspective, it was a work-around that allowed XP users to supply that swift kick with -- a sort of network refresh. It worked about 70% of the time. And when it didn't, your only recourse was to reboot or rebuild your network stack, or both. Ah, the little niceties about Windows peer networking

A tip worth mentioning is that, unlike in Windows XP, if you right-click the Network background and choose Refresh from the context menu, about half the time that will make Windows Vista actively search for network-connected PCs. Because the same setting had no effect in Windows XP, you might not think to try it. The last Vista PC I tried this with required three refresh attempts before the network finally came to life.

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Network, the evolution of My Network Places.
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I tested the Windows network-connection bug in Vista in a different way. It used to be that you could network with a Windows XP computer that was paused awaiting the entry of a password for initial log-in -- a security vulnerability that it appears Microsoft has fixed in Vista. From one Vista PC, I attempted to make a network connection to a second Vista computer awaiting log-in. The result was an error message saying that the workstation could not be found or was not available. Good, that's as it should be. But when I entered the password on the second machine and allowed it to boot fully, the first machine was still unable to network with the second Vista box. It had tried and failed to network a first time, and was only remembering the failure instead of giving it the old college try. Multiple attempts over a period of 15 minutes all elicited the same results. Meanwhile, other machines on the network had no trouble seeing or accessing the second machine. The first machine required a restart before it would connect with the target PC.

Although some aspects of networking are improved, some are not. For Beta 2, at any rate, Microsoft didn't focus hard enough on the problems in this area. Just adding IPv6 isn't enough. And the old mantra still holds: If at first you don't succeed with Windows networking, reboot, reboot, reboot.

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