Top Five Home Networking Annoyances

by Kathy Ivens, author of Home Networking Annoyances

Like doctors, plumbers, and other professionals, computer consultants find that almost every social interaction produces a request for help, advice, and opinions. People have complaints, and they grab anyone who will listen and who can help. All sorts of events and occasions in my life seem to produce questions and complaints about computers. These freebie consulting sessions have occurred at dinner parties, while I've been standing in line at the bank, and even in an operating room where the anesthesiologist, poising the IV above my arm, asked me to solve her wireless home network problem. After a satisfactory response, I was permitted to drift off.

For the past few years, the vast majority of complaints were about home networks. It's amazing how many households have computer networks (most of which were installed to share an Internet connection). Home network administrators (the title bestowed honorarily on the person who hooked up the physical connections) eventually realize that running a home network is like raising children—the care and maintenance never seem to end. They want answers to their questions and help in resolving the things that annoy them.

I used the complaints I heard, received via e-mail, and read in newspaper and magazine articles (which were frequently incorrectly or incompletely answered by the columnists) as fodder for my book, Home Networking Annoyances. In this article, I'll present a few of the common home networking annoyances and their fixes (all of which are lifted from the pages of my book).

One: The Wireless Annoyance

Our wireless network works fine until one of the computers moves more than forty or fifty feet away from the router. What's the distance maximum for wireless?

The Fix

The "rated" maximum distance for wireless network adapters is usually about 1,500 feet outdoors and 300 feet indoors. The word "rated" means "under perfect circumstances," and that's something to think about carefully. For outdoor distance maximums, "perfect circumstances" means your entire network is outdoors, including the router, any access points, and all the computers on the network. I'll bet big bucks this doesn't match your setup. The indoor distance maximum is very susceptible to suspicion, because it depends on structural elements in the house. I've never seen a building that passes a "perfect circumstances" test. Almost anything in the walls except for air can block or degrade the wireless signal. Since no walls will stay up with air as their only component, you lose some of the signal as soon as you ask the signal to pass through a wall. The nails in the studs, metal in plaster lath, air conditioning ducts, cast iron pipes, and even lead paint can further interfere with the signal.

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Two: The Networking Annoyance

I added a new computer to my network, but it didn't appear in My Network Places or in Network Neighborhood on any of the other computers. I know the cabling and the network settings are correct. I had to reboot all the computers on the network in order to see the new computer, which is really annoying.

The Fix

You don't have to reboot all the computers to see a newly added computer on your network. Just wait twelve minutes. Honest. Could I make that up? Go have a cup of coffee, empty the dishwasher, or change all the burned out lightbulbs in the house. Then open the network folder again, or press F5 to refresh the display if you didn't close the folder. You should now see the new computer. Why does this happen? The icons in the network windows are controlled by a Windows service called the Computer Browser Service. This service browses the network, peering down the pipes (including the virtual pipes of wireless connections), checking to see who's on board. The service runs every twelve minutes.

Three: The Mapping Annoyance

On two of the computers on our network, I created mapped drives for folders on the third computer. Those folders contain files that everyone uses. However, when anyone but me logs on to those two computers, the mapped drives aren't there. What happened?

The Fix

Mapped drives, along with many other configuration settings, are user settings, not computer settings. This is why the reconnection option is worded Reconnect at Logon, instead of Reconnect at Startup. Each user has to create his or her own mapped drives.

Four: The My Documents Folder Annoyance

I usually work on a particular Windows XP computer, but sometimes one of my kids is at that computer, and I have to do my work from another computer. I can't figure out how to get to my documents on the Windows XP computer. I know the My Documents folder isn't marked "private" because other users of that computer can access it. Why can't I get to that folder from another computer?

The Fix

The fact that you didn't configure your My Documents folder as private only means its contents are accessible to other users of the computer on which the folder resides. To access the folder over the network, you must specifically enable the option to share the folder on the network. Tell your kid to log off, then log yourself on, right-click the folder icon, and choose Sharing and Security. Then select the option labeled Share this folder on the network, and provide a name for the shared folder.

Five: The Overly Networked Annoyance

We built a home network to share our Internet connection, period, end of it. The wizards we used asked about shared folders, private folders, and all sorts of complicated stuff I don't even understand. We don't want to share files or printers or anything else; we just want to share our DSL connection through our router. It seems to me I have this overly networked group of computers, and I don't know how to undo that. Why isn't there a wizard named Undo the Settings Except for Using the Router?

The Fix

It's hard to believe that Microsoft missed an opportunity to do something with a wizard, but there isn't a wizard that will do what you want. However, you can accomplish your goal quite easily. Go into Control Panel and right-click the icon for your Local Area Connection (labeled Network in earlier versions of Windows). Choose Properties from the shortcut menu, and in the Properties dialog box uninstall or deselect (depending on the version of Windows) File and Printer Sharing. Bingo!

Kathy Ivens has authored, co-authored, contributed to, and ghost written more than fifty books on computer subjects.

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