Windows XP Networking: A First Look
With the much anticipated release of Windows XP just around the corner, you've probably already heard a lot of hype regarding Window's new features. In light of this, I thought it might be a good idea to take a look at the network configuration portion of Windows XP so that you can get a feel for what has changed, what remains the same, and what new features have actually been added. As you read this article, please keep in mind that everything in this article is based on a pre-release version of Windows XP (RC1). Therefore, anything could change before the actual consumer version is released.
As with Windows 2000, you can access Windows XP's network configuration by right clicking on My Network Places and selecting the Properties command from the resulting context menu. When you see the Network Connections screen, the first thing that you'll notice is that the screen offers much more information than its Windows 2000 counterpart did, and also tends to be extremely easy to read. As you may recall, the Windows 2000 Network and Dial Up Connections screen contained only basic icons representing each connection. When multiple network connections existed, it was difficult to identify a connection without actually going into each individual icon. In Windows XP however, each connection is identified at the icon level, and the connection's status is also displayed. You can see an example of this in the screenshot below.
As you look at the image, you'll notice some other new goodies along the left side of the window. Perhaps the most useful of these new features is the addition of the Details area. This area provides you with a slightly more detailed summary of the selected connection. This summary includes the IP address and its configuration method.
As you further examine the screenshot, notice the Network Tasks section at the top left portion of the Window. This section allows you to do things like see a connection status (bytes sent and received), rename the connection, modify the connection, or create a new connection with a single mouse click. You might also have noticed that this section contains an option to repair a connection. Presently I haven't been able to locate any documentation on what this feature will do, but it should be a feature to watch for in the final version.
To see another new feature, you can right click on an active connection to display the resulting context menu. The context menu contains an option called Bridge Connection. This option allows you to select two network connections (as long as they aren't being used by Internet Connection Sharing), and create a network bridge between them. This means that you can easily connect two different networks through a single PC. What makes this feature so interesting is that when I tested it, I wasn't even using a server. I was using Windows XP Professional.
When you actually go into a connection's properties sheet to configure or edit the connection, the properties sheet appears to be exactly like the Windows 2000 version at first glance. However, upon closer inspection, you'll notice two new tabs. The first new tab is the Authentication tab. This tab allows you to enable smart card or other certificate based authentication.
The other new tab is the Advanced tab, which contains a check box that you can use to implement a degree of firewall protection. By selecting this check box, a user can completely block or limit access to the computer by Internet users. The other new check box allows you to share your computer's Internet connection with other users. While Internet connection sharing isn't new, what is new is a feature in which you may either grant or deny other users the ability to control or to disable your shared Internet connection.
As you can see, Windows XP's prerelease code contains a wealth of new features. We'll have more when the final product ships.
Brien M. Posey is an MCSE who works as a freelance writer. His past experience includes working as the director of information systems for a national chain of health care facilities and as a network engineer for the Department of Defense. Because of the extremely high volume of e-mail that Brien receives, it's impossible for him to respond to every message, although he does read them all.