Solving SOHO Networking Problems in Windows XP

To solve networking problems, simplify as much as possible

I hear from a lot of readers with a small office/home office (SOHO) who have basic questions about setting up networking with Windows XP. Almost always, the questions are prefaced with, "I just got broadband networking and want to share..." Often, such sharing involves setting up a notebook from work to access the Internet from home, or giving the kids' and spouse's computers access to the Internet through a single connection.

Most of the time, I recommend Internet Connection Sharing (ICS), particularly if the reader is using XP. Before you send me an email message disagreeing with me, keep two considerations in mind: ICS is included in XP, and it works. Yes, there are some problems with ICS, and yes, the Internet Connection Firewall (ICF) isn't as spiffy as many third-party products, but between ICS and ICF the OS incorporates a good, basic, functional connection-sharing methodology.

I'm amazed at how often the messages concerning networking in XP give me details about all the router hardware, extra networking software, and firewall tools that SOHO users have convinced themselves (or been convinced) that they absolutely need to buy. I'm also amazed at how often these readers have installed multiple products that are, if not mutually exclusive, at least attempting to accomplish the same tasks. These messages are often desperate pleas for help in getting systems running because these small businesses don't have IT staff, and friends or the salesperson at the local megastore who recommended all the extra equipment can't help with setting up and operating the equipment.

I often receive arguments in follow-up messages when I tell these readers to return to the lowest common denominator: Use the built-in OS features before trying all the new toys. Let the Networking Wizard run, let it create the setup disk for other computers, and follow the directions. Then, you'll have established at least a baseline state if networking doesn't work, or doesn't work the way it should. I can easily send readers directions for making various file- and printer-sharing tricks work after their networks are running in the somewhat restricted state that the Networking Wizard establishes.

Curiously, I don't receive too many messages asking what to do with all the extra software readers have bought if using ICS and ICF solves their problems. I get the feeling that a lot of stuff is sitting in boxes, gathering dust.

Thinking back over the more than 15 years I spent specializing in networking technologies, I realize that my advice hasn't changed much since that time: To diagnose networking problems, simplify as much as possible. Whether you're a SOHO user or work for a Fortune 50 company, that advice remains valid. So many good and useful applications are available to pile on top of networking infrastructures to help you manage and maintain them that you can easily lose sight of the truth in this simple philosophy.

XP Prefetcher Follow-Up

In response to the tip I offered in the March 13 Windows Client UPDATE about the XP Prefetcher, many readers sent me messages with the following information. The registry key EnablePrefetcher has four values:
0 no prefetch
1 prefetch applications only
2 prefetch boot only
3 prefetch both applications & boot

Thanks to those readers who passed this information along.

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