Seven things to love about networking in Windows Vista

They include better wireless capabilities, search, file sharing and gadgets, says reviewer Preston Gralla.

Vista is the first version of Windows created for a world where networks and wireless access are ubiquitous. One of Microsoft's goals in creating Windows Vista was to take advantage of that constant connectivity.

Did Microsoft get it right? In a lot of ways, I think it did, and I found plenty of reasons why Windows Vista represents a breakthrough in Windows-based networking. So here are seven things you'll love about networking with Vista.

By the way, I'm not letting Microsoft off the hook -- in a follow-up article, I clue you in on things you'll hate about Vista and networking as well.

The Network and Sharing Center

Microsoft has a long, sad history of getting networking wrong. Looking to manage a network, connect to a network, change your network settings, see an overview of your network at a glance, or set up file sharing? In the past, performing those tasks in Windows was enough to make a user shudder.

Thanks to Vista's Network and Sharing Center, that's largely changed. On a single screen, you get a visual overview of your network, and have all the tools you'll need to accomplish just about any network-related task, from file sharing to changing your network name, connecting to a network, setting up a new one, managing network connections, repairing broken connections and more.

Finally, with Vista's new Network and Sharing Center, Microsoft gets networking right.
 

Finally, with Vista's new Network and Sharing Center, Microsoft gets networking right.

(Click image to see larger view)

One of the Network and Sharing Center's coolest new tools is the Network Map. Click "View Full Map" from the Network and Sharing Center, and a complete, live map will be drawn of all the devices and PCs on your network. Click on a device or hover over it to get more details. For example, click a PC and you'll see the shared network files and folders on it. Hover your mouse over a device, such as a gateway, and details, such as its IP address, and MAC address will be displayed.

Vista's Network Map is interactive; it not only visually displays all your devices, but links to them or provides more information about them, such as IP and MAC addresses for gateways.
 

Vista's Network Map is interactive; it not only visually displays all your devices, but links to them or provides more information about them, such as IP and MAC addresses for gateways.

(Click image to see larger view)

The Network and Sharing Center also does an excellent job of putting file sharing options in a single, simple-to-configure interface. (See more details in "Improved file and folder sharing" later in this article.)

Does that mean the Network and Sharing Center is perfect? Far from it. The Network Map tends to be flaky in its support of non-Vista PCs, for example. Still, this is a big step forward for networking with Windows.

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