What is a Windows Home Network?

Designed for cases where a household has more than one PC or Windows-based peripheral, a Windows Home Network is intended as a solution to connect each machine and allow them to communicate and share files, Internet connectivity, and other resources. A Windows Home Network is best utilized with computers running Windows 98 or higher. Windows XP and Vista include a wizard to help guide users through the software setup of the network. In particular, the wizard provides for the configuration of network adapters (NICs), a single Internet connection, computer names, shared folders, printers, and a software firewall.

Most commonly, a Windows Home Network is implemented on a hardwired basis, with Cat5 or Cat5e cables physically connecting each PC to one other or to a centralized router. It is also possible, however, to run a network wirelessly, using a wireless router as a centralized hub. Depending on the physical location of the machines to be networked, a wired network is often the cheapest solution, though feeding network cable through different rooms and floors can dramatically increase the cost and difficulty of the project. A wireless router is typically more expensive, and wireless connections are not as fast as wired ones and have a limited range, but benefit from the obvious advantage of not requiring a physical connection.

Once configured, Windows Home Network features are accessible through the My Network Places shortcut, located by default on the Windows start menu. Depending on the way the network was set up in the wizard, this is where a user may find shared folders and other computers on the network. By default, Windows names the home network — also known as the workgroup — MSHome, though this can be changed during setup. Printers and other shared peripherals may also be named in a similar fashion.

While Windows does provide a default software firewall, third party software and firewall solutions exist, and may be used to supplement or replace the stock firewall. Additionally, most routers provide some level of firewall protection. Antivirus software should also be considered when installing a Windows Home Network, and is particularly important if the computers on the network will be connected to the Internet in an “always on” fashion.

While ostensibly intended for home use, it is possible to implement a Windows Home Network in a small business setting, where only file and printer sharing are needed. The limitations of the home network platform should be weighed against the cost of an enterprise level solution when considering business use, however.