Networking in Windows 7 improves on earlier versions primarily with ease-of-use enhancements . Among the most useful improvements:
• HomeGroup makes child's play of the previously daunting tasks of connecting the computers in your home and sharing the information they contain . When you join a home network, Windows automatically invites you to join a homegroup . Documents, pictures, music, and other files you choose to share are then accessible among all your home network's computers . For information about setting up HomeGroup, see "Using HomeGroup to Connect Your Computers at Home" on page 611; for details about using homegroups, see "Sharing Files, Digital Media, and Printers in a Home-group" on page 616
• Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS), a standard promulgated by the Wi-Fi Alliance (wi-fi.org) and embraced by many hardware manufacturers, enables simple and secure configuration of the gamut of wireless network devices, including routers, wireless access points, computers, printers, cameras, game consoles, media extenders, and personal digital assistants (PDAs). WPS is fully integrated in Windows 7 . For details, see "Setting Up a Wireless Network" on page 597.
• Mobile broadband support provides a driver-based system for working with connections to mobile broadband services such as 3G. Instead of having to install and learn proprietary connection software, you can now connect a mobile broadband adapter and begin using it in essentially the same way as any other network adapter.
In addition, Windows 7, when connected to a server running Windows Server 2008 R2, enables new networking features such as DirectAccess, which enables connections to an enterprise server without creating a virtual private network (VPN) connection; VPN Reconnect, which automatically re-establishes a VPN connection when internet connectivity is restored; and BranchCache, which improves response time and reduces wide area network (WAN) traffic by caching server content in a local office . These enterprise-scale features are beyond the scope of this book.
These usability improvements come atop a major networking makeover in Windows Vista, which is based on a protocol stack that was completely rewritten for Windows Vista. Dubbed the Next Generation TCP/IP stack, this redesign of the network underpinnings provides improvements in security, performance, and convenience that are largely invisible to ordinary users.
For example, additional security comes in the ability of the Windows Filtering Platform to implement packet filtering at all levels of the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) stack. Performance is enhanced by Receive Window Auto-Tuning, which dynamically determines the optimal receive window size based on changing network conditions; in previous Windows versions, you were required to tweak the registry to set a fixed-size receive window for your type of internet connection. The Next Generation TCP/IP stack implements Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) in a dual-stack architecture; instead of having to install a separate protocol (with its own transport and link layers) as in previous versions, IPv4 and IPv6 are incorporated in a single Windows driver, with a shared transport layer and link layer. Enabling IPv4 and IPv6 by default is more convenient for the user who needs both—because there's nothing extra to install—but also easier for developers . Native support for wireless devices is built in to the Next Generation TCP/IP stack, which also reduces demands on developers and users who must deal with add-in support in earlier versions of Windows
And if all of the preceding jargon means nothing to you—well, that's the point. Improvements like these (and dozens of others) have made networking almost transparent to users so that you don't need to spend time understanding how the layers in a protocol stack communicate and, worse, how to configure them to do so .
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