Network and Sharing Center: The network and sharing center allows you to connect up to a network to share files or to the internet for internet access. To connect to a network you can use either a wired or wireless device. Today, most laptops and many desktops come with built in wireless cards or are used with wireless networks. There are varying speeds of wireless and wired networks; wired ethernet can be in the range of 10Mbps, 100Mbps, 1000Mbps and even faster, though most desktops will come with 1000Mbps for wired ethernet for now. It is reccomended that your network adapter and routing hardware be fully compatible with 100Mbps speeds or above as streaming data is becoming more popular and requires faster speeds. Wireless also has different ranges of speed from around 11Mbps to 54Mbps and even 300+Mpbs with newer networking standards. It is importand when buying wireless hardware to get adapters and routers that support 802.11a or 802.11g as they will support faster speeds, you may also want to consider faster solutions like 802.11n, however it is not as common for hardware at the moment. Once you have the hardware in place and it is installed on the pc, you can use the Network and Sharing Center to connect to networks and manage shared devices and folders.
You will first see a map of your computer and the network that you are connected to and also an internet icon, you can click on View full map to view a larger map containing other networks connected to your pc and other pcs, if they are available. You can also click on the items such as the Network for more information or to view the contents. Under the Network section you can see what type of access your computer has, whether you have local or Internet access. You can also see which connection is being used to connect to this network as well as a link called View Status that allows you to see the status of the network adapter. You can also change specific settings on the network adapter such as ip address, dns, dhcp, gateway, domain settings as well as ipv6 settings. The default settings should be enough to connect to most networks that have dhcp enabled or most routers that would have dhcp enabled.
Sharing and discovery allows you to select whether you can see other computers on the network or whether they can see you. If you would not like other computer on your network to access any of your shared folders or devices, you can select that it is switched off, if you would like to access shared resources you will need to have this switched on, You can select which folders are shared by right clicking on them and selecting the Share menu item; you can then select which user or users can access the folder or item by either using the drop down box to select from available options or manually typing the user. Once you have finished click the Share button. You can stop sharing a folder by choosing file sharing to be off under the Sharing and Discover section. Public file sharing allows you to share files over the network from your public folder - located under \users\public - this folder is shared by all users on your pc where other folders for specific users are only accessible by those users. Printer sharing allows printers that you have selected to be shared over the network, and password protected sharing switched on will require the user to type in a username and password from a user account set up on your pc. When Media sharing is switched on, you can search for and allow other computers on the network to search for media files such as pictures and videos.
Internet Options: You can use Internet Options to change settings for Windows Internet Explorer 7, you can access this settings windows through Windows Internet Explorer also. Under the General tab, you can add a home page or home page tabs, so you can have more than one home page to choose from. You can also Select the current website that you are on as your home page as well as using the default home page or just a blank one. You can also select to Delete your history and temporary internet files as well as select settings for how long to keep your history for before deleting the oldest record, how much space to use for the temporary internet files and options to view the files. You can also change the search defaults as well as finding more search providers to add to your browser. There is also the option to change how tabs are presented in Internet Explorer and other appearance customisation options at the bottom of the General tab. Other tabs include Security, Privacy, Content, Connections, Programs and Advanced - these are discussed in more detail in the Internet Explorer 7 page.
Windows Firewall: Windows firewall is used to block hackers and viruses from trying to access your computer over protocols that may be unsecure if left open. You can specify which programs are allowed to communicate and which are not by selecting Change settings and then going to the Exceptions tab. The new firewall in Vista has a similar appearance in control panel, however, it now blocks outbound connections an well as incoming, stopping applications that you may not want transfering information away from your pc or malware/viruses which may have ended up on your pc from being able to act as a bot. From the control panel application you can control the incoming connections for which applications to block or allow, however you will have to use the group policy editor to control outbound connnections.
To edit the setting for incoming settings, enter the Exceptions tab and you will see a list of programs that you can choose to allow or disallow. To allow an incoming conection you have to tick the box next to the program and to disallow (block) you have to untick it. These programs are mainly ones that have been used before, however if you wish to add another program to the list, you can easily do so by clicking on the Add program button. You can also add ports that you wish to allow connections through or deny access for particular ports and a selection of UDP and TCP is available. You can also delete a program off the list as well as view properties about the particular program that brings up some information.
In order to configure outboung connections, you need to run the group policy option for firewall which can be opened by typing wf.msc into the search box or run box. As you can see in the Overview window, there are options for a Domain Profile, Private Profile and Public Profile. You can see which ones have the firewall switched on as well as which ones will block inbound connections that do not match a rule. You can also see outbound connections for each of the profiles and these can be set up by clicking on the Windows Firewall Properties link. You can view and edit the individual inbound and outbound rules by scrolling down the Windows Firewall and Advanced Security window and clicking on Inbound Rules or Outbound Rules under the getting started section. Other options in the Advanced security window include being able to set up IPsec with the firewall as well as being able to set up and view security associations. You can also view and specify monitoring preferences such as how large the log file should be.