You may have heard of Windows 7's HomeGroup feature before, but never really understood what it did. It's actually the simplest way to share files between two Windows machines, and it takes seconds to set up. If you have more than one computer in your home (or a friend who comes over and likes to borrow your music), here's how to set it up.
Sharing files in Windows used to be a painful process, and while that system still exists, homegroup is dead simple to use. All you need is a copy of Windows 7 Home Premium or above (which most people should have) to start the homegroup. Any computer running Windows 7 can join the homegroup. To set it up:
- Open up the Control Panel, go to Network and Internet, and click on HomeGroup. You can also type "homegroup" in the Start menu's search box.
- Click Create a Homegroup if one isn't already set up. When you first join your home network, it may have already created one for you, in which case you should already see most of the following options on the main Control Panel page — no need to go through the wizard.
- First, the wizard will ask you what you want to share with the other computers in your house. You can share your Pictures library, your Music library, your Videos library, your Documents library, and any printers hooked up to your machine. You can't choose specific folders on your machine to share with Homegroup, but you can add them to one of those libraries to get it sharing.
- Next, it will give you a password to write down. For now, you can ignore this, since we're going to set the password ourselves. Click Finish.
- Under "Other homegroup actions" on the Control Panel page, click "Change the password". Now you can just enter any password you want.
- Now, on your other computers, head to the same Homegroup window in the Control Panel. It should tell you that it's detected a homegroup on your network. Click "Join Now", select the files you want that computer to share, and type in the password you just set.
- You should see Homegroup pop up in Explorer's sidebar, from which you can access all the shared libraries from other Windows 7 computers in the homegroup. That's it!
After typing in that password on all your Windows 7 machines, you'll be able to access any files on those machines right from Windows Explorer. If you have a friend that comes over and wants a file, you can just give them the password to your homegroup (though they'll need to mark your Wi-Fi network as a "Home" network, which is fine).
To print a document on a shared printer — that is, a printer connected to one of the other homegroup computers — all you need to do is go to the print dialog as normal. You should see that the shared printer pops up under the "Select Printer" list (in fact, if you don't have a printer hooked up, it'll already be set to the default). Just hit Print and it'll send it to that shared printer without so much as a blink.
You can also turn on Media Streaming from the main Control Panel page, which lets you send your music, pictures, and videos to other devices via Windows Media Player. I've never found a need for this feature since I can access the videos just fine via Windows Explorer and open them up with PotPlayer, our favorite video player for Windows.
The only real downside is that it only works with Windows computers (specifically, Windows 7 computers), so if you have any Mac or Linux machines in your home, they won't be able to take part in the homegroup file sharing. Still, in an all-Windows household, it doesn't get any easier than this.