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Windows 8 Tip: Seamless Home Network Access

Windows 8 has moved to a new PC sign-in model where you typically use a Microsoft account (Windows Live ID) instead of a traditional local account. This provides a ton of advantages related to PC-to-PC sync settings and more. But it also comes with a few challenges, key among them home network interoperability. And if you need to access other PCs on your home network, whether they're using Windows 7, Windows Home Server, or whatever, you're going to run into some issues. Fortunately, they're easy to overcome, if you know the secrets.


Method 1: Homegroup


On my own home network, I use Windows Home Server 2011 as a central point for data storage and sharing. That system is based on Windows Server 2008 R2, so it's part of the Windows 7 family of products. As such, it does support the Homegroup home sharing technologies that Microsoft introduced in that OS. So that's one approach.


To configure Homegroup on Windows 8, navigate to PC Settings (WINKEY + I, More PC Settings), and then HomeGroup. Then, enter the homegroup password to join the homegroup.




After the connection is made, determine which folders to share through the homegroup and whether to share media devices. Then, close PC Settings.


To access the PCs connected to the homegroup over the home network, you will need to use the Homegroup node in the Navigation pane of Windows Explorer, and not the Network node. This will pass you through to all of the shared folders (and media devices) on your homegroup-connected network.





Method 2: Network shares


Homegroup-based access is the easiest way to interoperate between Windows 8-based PCs and those based on Windows 7. But if you're using other versions of Windows on your home network, or want to use the Network node in Explorer to access files shares, that method won't work. Fortunately, there's a way.


You'll know you need this method when you see the following dialog:




This is what I get when I sign-in to Windows 8 and then want to access my home server, which is configured with my old workgroup-based user name and password combo. And sure enough, you can type in that user name and password here, check "Remember my credentials" and be on your merry way.


There's just one problem. That "Remember my credentials" checkbox is a long-running joke in Windows, and it doesn't actually doing anything like actually remembering your credentials. In fact, it does just the opposite.


To get around this--i.e. to actually cause Windows 8 to remember your credentials and let you access your home network-based shares seamlessly--you need to use an obscure Windows utility called Windows Vault. There are a variety of ways to bring up this interface, but the easiest is to use Start Search: Just hit the Start screen, type vault, and select Settings from the filter list on the right.




Select Manage Windows Credentials and the Credential Manager, formerly known as Windows Vault. Select the Windows Credentials button.


Now, select "Add a Windows Credential." In the view that opens, type in the machine name of the PC you wish to access (just the name, like vail and not like \\vail), and the user name and password that you use on that machine and/or across machines on your workgroup.




When you are done, the Credential Manager will list the new saved credential under Windows Credentials.




You'll need to reboot the computer (or use NET USE via a command line, if you're too technical for your own good) for the changes to take effect. But you will be able to access your home network shares now, regardless of how the network is configured.




Thanks to my Windows 8 Secrets co-author Rafael Rivera for reminding me about the importance of Windows Vault/Credential Manager.

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