Types of connections to private networks include the more traditional Ethernet connection, with its network adapters and cabling, as well as the newer, increasingly popular wireless connection (commonly referred to as Wi-Fi), with its wireless network adapters and access points (also known as hotspots).
Having so many options may seem like a recipe for networking disaster, but fortunately Windows 7 is super at detecting existing private networks during installation and often requires little or no additional network setup. The topics covered in this part of the book discuss the networking features in Windows 7, how you use them to create networking connections, and how you maintain them.
If the computer running the Windows 7 operating system connects to your network via a dialup, VPN (virtual private network), or wireless connection, you can use the Connect to a Network option in the Network and Sharing Center (StartOControl PanelOView Network Status) either to disconnect from a current connection or to make a new connection.
When you click the Connect to a Network link in the Network and Sharing Center, Windows 7 opens a dialog box similar to the one shown in Figure 3-1. By default, Windows shows all the networks to which your computer is or can be connected.
To connect to a listed network, click its name and then click the Connect button. (Note that the button only appears after you click the name of the network.) If the network requires you to supply a key, Windows prompts you to enter your network security key in the Connect to a Network dialog box that then appears, assuming that your wireless connection requires some type of authentication — select the Hide Characters check box if you don't want the characters you type displayed in the Security Key text box. After you successfully enter your security key and click OK, click the Connect button to have Windows 7 use the key in establishing the connection.
To disconnect from a network, click the network name in this dialog box and then click the Disconnect button (that then appears). Windows 7 then prompts you to confirm your disconnection in the Connect to a Network dialog box by clicking the Disconnect link, after which you can click the Close button.
If you tend to work with network settings quite a bit, you may want to permanently add the various network options to your Windows 7 Start menu so that you don't have to search for their links. These options include Connect To (to view or change network connections), Network (to open the Network window to see all the devices on your local area network), and Homegroup (to see all the devices on your homegroup). To add such networking options, right-click the Windows taskbar to open the Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog box. Then click the Customize button on the Start tab. Continue by selecting the check boxes for the network options you want to add to the Start menu (Connect To, Network, or Homegroup) and then click OK twice, first to close the Customize Start Menu dialog box and a second time to close the Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog box.
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