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Troubleshooting Vista file and print services

Windows Vista introduces some tricks to file and print services. In this tip, Windows expert Jonathan Hassell offers practical step-by-step guidance for some of the most common file and print problems in Microsoft's newest operating system.

If you're new to Windows Vista, you might be stymied by changes to file and print services in this version of the operating system. The challenges for value-added resellers (VARs) rolling out Vista for new customers may be annoying, but they're not insurmountable. Here's a quick cheat sheet for some of the most common file sharing and print sharing problems in Windows Vista.

File issues

Microsoft introduced a setting in Vista called Network Discovery and disabled it by default. As a result, it's now more difficult to see other file shares, computers or devices on a network. In addition, the company inexplicably obscured the feature, needlessly complicating a simple chore. Nevertheless, you can turn Network Discovery on in the new (and nearly useless) Network and Sharing Center. Here's what to do:

  1. Select Start, Control Panel, and Network and Internet.
  2. Select Network and Sharing Center.
  3. If Network Discovery is turned off, you'll get a dialog box to that effect. Click "Turn on network discovery," then click the Apply button.

You should then be able to see other file shares and devices on your local area network (LAN). If those shares and devices still aren't visible, ensure that they are assigned to the same workgroup under the Workgroup setting, which you can see by right-clicking on Computer from the Start menu and selecting Properties.

On a smaller network where there's less concern for internal permissions and security

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issues, you might want to simply share the entire contents of a machine's hard drive. By default, however, Windows Vista disables this option. To share contents of a hard drive, choose Computer from the Start menu, right-click the drive in question, and then select Share. In the resulting dialog box, select Advanced Sharing, then click "Share this folder" and name it. You'll then be able to see the entire contents of the root drive and all of its subfolders from network machines.

Here are a few other file-related tips:

  • If you're running out of disk space, the chore of finding files to delete might be simplified using the revised Disk Cleanup Wizard, which you can access via the Start menu, All Programs, Accessories, and System Tools. If you are logged in as an administrator, you can choose to clean up either your own files or all files, no matter the user. Choose the drive and the types of files to delete, and let the wizard run its course.
  • Looking for the Security tab in the Properties dialog of files and folders? In Windows Vista Home Premium and Home Basic, and in Windows Vista Starter, you don't get this feature. Also, if your disk is using the FAT32 file system, permissions on files and folders are not supported.

Printing problems

In Windows Vista, Microsoft "gummed up the works" for network administrators by changing the interface that enables configuration of printers. For veteran Windows IT folks, navigating the new interface may present some challenges, such as recognizing existing network printers. Here's the most straightforward way to find a network printer:

  1. From within Control Panel, select Hardware and Sound and then select Printers.
  2. Select "Add a printer" to launch the Add Printer Wizard.
  3. Click "The printer that I want isn't listed" on the "Choose a network printer" page.
  4. On the next screen, you can detect the printer either by supplying a NetBIOS or DNS name for the printer or by supplying the direct IP address of the printer. Typically, IP address selection is the most reliable method of selecting a printer to install -- but it's useful only if those printers have static IP addresses, or at least have reservations in the DHCP scope that supply it with the same IP address with each lease.
  5. Complete the wizard as instructed.

Once you actually have a printer configured correctly on a customer's Vista computer, printing is reliable and quick. The hard part is just getting that first page to come out.

About the author: Jonathan Hassell is an author, consultant and speaker residing in Charlotte, N.C. Jonathan's books include RADIUS, Learning Windows Server 2003, Hardening Windows and most recently Windows Vista: Beyond the Manual.

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