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Windows 8 : Networking with Other Operating Systems - Mix and Match with Windows and Macs

11/27/2014 8:22:32 PM
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It’s easy enough to plug a couple Windows 8 computers together and call it a network, but real-life networks are seldom so simple, even at home. Networks usually have a mix of operating systems, and Windows often has to be coaxed into getting along with them.

On a real-life LAN with multiple OSs, it’s not enough that computers be capable of coexisting on the same network cable at the same time. They need to actually work with each other, or internetwork, so that users of these various systems can share files and printers. At best, this sharing should occur without anyone even knowing that alternative platforms are involved. Achieving this kind of seamlessness can range from effortless to excruciating.


Save the Heartache—Buy a Network Appliance

One way to avoid most of the hassles of internetworking is to buy a network appliance, also called network-attached storage (NAS): a small server computer that “speaks” all the networking languages you need (UNIX, Macintosh, or whatever). These devices can cost less than $200 and can put terabytes of storage on your network for anyone to access. They tend to be very easy to set up, and a few even provide Internet Connection Sharing, wireless connectivity, an email server, a firewall, and a web server all in the same box. Products for the home and small office are made by Axentra (www.axentra.com), Cisco (www.linksysbycicso.com), D-Link (www.dlink.com), Buffalo Technology (www.buffalotech.com), LG (www.lg.com), and several other companies.

Additionally, Acer, Hewlett-Packard, Niveus, Velocity, and others made NAS devices based on a Microsoft software package called Windows Home Server (WHS). Microsoft has pulled the plug on the WHS product line, but, at the time this was written, there was the potential that Windows Server 2012 Foundation Edition might take its place. If products based on Foundation appear, they have the potential to provide a great backup and file-sharing solution. They “speak” only SMB, but Macs and Linux can use them, too.


If you’re shopping for such a network appliance, be very careful to check what format it uses on its disks and what maximum file size it supports. Some devices support a maximum file size of only 2GB or 4GB, depending on the disk format and internal software used. Such a device might be okay for storing documents and photos, but it will be incapable of storing complete movies and computer backup files, many of which run 6GB in size or more—often way more. Other devices use proprietary networking drivers and/or proprietary disk formats. Personally, I’d only use a NAS device that uses standard file access protocols (SMB, NFS, and so on) and a disk format that can be read by Windows or Linux, so that if the hardware box were to die, I could at least put its hard disk into my desktop computer and extract its contents.

If a network appliance isn’t in the cards, you need to get your computers to interoperate directly.

Windows 8 and 7 have some networking features that weren’t in older versions, and some features have been removed. With respect to internetworking, this list provides a summary of the most significant changes since Windows Vista and XP:

• Windows 8 and 7 behave differently from previous versions of Windows when Password Protected Sharing is turned off.

• The NetBEUI network protocol is not available under Windows 8 and 7. This could impact you if your network includes computers running Windows XP, or—heaven forbid—earlier versions.

• The Link Level Discovery Protocol (LLDP) is relatively new to Windows. LLDP lets Windows eke out a map of the connections between your computers and the other hardware on your network. LLDP support is available for Windows XP via a download, and is included in all the more recent versions. It’s also in Server 2003 and later Server editions. Connections to computers running older versions of Windows will not be diagrammed on the network map. Computers running Linux and Mac OS X won’t appear, either, unless you add a third-party program such as Open LLDP (at http://openlldp.sourceforge.net). Some commercial network-mapping applications (such as LANsurveyor at www.solarwinds.com) also have a Mac LLDP responder.

• Microsoft no longer provides out-of-the-box support for Novell NetWare (a corporate networking system). Novell Corporation has a NetWare client that works on Windows 8.

However, although some things change, other things stay the same. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that the Network Browser service (the relatively obscure software component responsible for collecting the list of names of the computers on your network, the list upon which the old Network Neighborhood display was based) is still present—and still works only when it feels like it.

 
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