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Microsoft File Sharing


© November 2005 Anthony Lawrence

Watch out: I'm going to say something nice about XP. Actually I think I have said before that if you have to use Windows, XP isn't all that bad. Were I totally without any other choice, I could work with XP Pro without grinding my teeth away to stubs.

One of the things I really like about XP Pro is the choice of how you want to share files. If you aren't part of a network domain, it defaults to Simple File Sharing, and that is simple: right click on a folder, say you want to share it, give it a share name, and check whether or not other users can write to files. For small networks, that's probably exactly what you want: no user names, no complicated permissions, just simple access, with the only option being to turn off the default of read-only.

However, if you want more control, you can turn off Simple Sharing. I imagine that if that was all I told you, you'd go looking in Control Panel and probably try running the Network Configuration Wizard looking for the way to turn on more advanced sharing. You'd be looking in the wrong place. Microsoft put this in the most amazing place. Look in My Computer->Tools->Folder Options->View. At the bottom of that scrollable list is a check box for "Use Simple File Sharing (Recommended)". Unchecking that box is how you turn off Simple File Sharing. Strange, but true.

After doing that, XP Pro file sharing is no longer.. simple. You now specify ACL's for particular users and/or groups, saying whether or not Sue can read and Harry can write and so on. However, that's not all that is required: if there are NTFS file system permissions underneath (as there are in My Documents by default), those can also prevent access. As almost all XP users end up with Administrator privileges sooner or later, you don't see this often, but keep it in mind: non admin users can be stopped by NTFS permissions even though they have been given network access. That's just as true on a Unix box with Samba, of course: the underlying file permissions are important too.

Usually if someone needs this level of control for shared resources, I'd rather put the shares out on a central box, and it will probably be Linux and Samba, not XP. This "almost but not quite a domain" sharing is annoying because you need to maintain password consistency across multiple machines; that becomes boring and unpleasant after the second machine in the network. Every user that you want to control exists in at least two places: the client and the machine hosting the share, and the passwords have to stay the same or the share stops working. However, this still is a little less complicated than a full domain, so it is something to consider in small workgroups that need just a little more control.


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Fri Nov 18 16:09:09 2005: 1367   BigDumbDinosaur


If you aren't part of a network domain, it defaults to Simple File Sharing, and that is simple: right click on a folder, say you want to share it, give it a share name, and check whether or not other users can write to files.

Some of that functionality existed in Windows 2000 WS Pro, although it was not all that simple to get it going. However, all Windows file sharing continues to be hobbled by the NetBIOS workgroup concept. I've set up many Windows networks (most of which are supported by Samba) and have yet to encounter one where multiple workgroups were required. Yet, naive users continue to be baffled about workgroups and why two machines can't see each other. Microsoft should chuck that feature and make their networking better conform to real-world applications.

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