The net within your office

For many of us, access to the internet is something only possible through connections available in offices where we work. Many offices have connected their computers together in order to share a single connection to the internet. The most important use of this shared internet connection is clearly email. It is fast, simple and convenient. If you only know how to do one thing on a computer it is probably how to send an email.

One thing I have noticed is that within the typical office, the majority of emails are sent to other people within the same organisation. Someone else needs to work on a file on your computer, and the most convenient way of getting it to them is to attach it to an email and send it via the ISPs email server in another part of town, even though that person may sit less than ten metres away.

In the case of offices using email services from Yahoo! or Hotmail the email’s journey is even more arduous. To follow the path of our intrepid email can be to embark on an odyssey around the country, or even the world. The email might travel to a server up the road, then via satellite be beamed to a server in Germany, then on to Yahoo! Mail’s server in the USA, then back along the same path. Whilst this can occur in the blink of an eye, often the connection in and out of the office is of limited speed, and a PowerPoint presentation containing photos can take an annoying length of time to leave and return. Hours can be wasted transferring a file a short distance.

And it isn’t necessary. A Local Area Network (LAN) is about more than just sharing an internet connection and a printer. Computers on a network can talk to each other. It is possible to share your files across the network much more quickly than with email – LANs operate at speeds of at least ten megabytes per second – hundreds of times faster than most internet connections.

How to share files

So, how do you do it? It is remarkably simple. First you must make sure that your computers are all configured for networking. If you can connect to the internet with all the computers on your network you are halfway there. You need to ensure that File and Printer Sharing is enabled on all computers – search in Windows help (in the Start menu) to find out how to check this for your version of Windows.

Your computer must also be set up so that when you switch it you log on as a user – if you click cancel when prompted to sign in you will not be able to share files.

You should also ensure all computers on your network are set up in the same Workgroup. Again, see the Windows help for how to do this for your version of Windows.

Once these hurdles are overcome, file sharing is as simple as right clicking on a folder, selecting Sharing and giving the folder a name by which it will be known on the network. You can tell at a glance if a folder is shared – shared folders have a hand added to their icon. The procedure is very similar for sharing printers.

Anything you put in a shared folder, including other folders and their contents, can be seen by other people on the network. Anything not within a shared folder cannot be seen from other peoples’ computers.

Seeing other peoples’ shared files.

Once a few people have shared folders you can access them from your computer by opening My Network Places (Windows XP and 2000) or Network Neighborhood (Windows 95/98).

In Windows 95/98 you will see a list of computers in your workgroup straight away. In Windows 2000 you may need to go into Entire Network and search around until you find your workgroup. In Windows XP there is a link on the left of the My Network Places which will take you to your workgroup.

Once you have a list of computers you can see open them and see all their shared folders – you can now access the files as if they were on your own computer, and even copy them.

You can use shared folders to create a repository of important documents and templates on one computer which can be used by everyone else. It is also useful to save large downloaded files into a single folder – other people who need the same download can get it from there rather than waiting for it to download over the net again. Anything you can store on your computer can be shared.

File sharing is an excellent way of saving time and reducing pressure on slow internet connections, making the most of your investment in a network.

Originally published in Arusha Times 298

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