Windows XP Peer-to-Peer Networking
Windows XP's Peer-to-Peer Networking Wizard allows you to set up a firewall-protected network. This month, we go through the process step by step.
- By Harry Brelsford
- December 01, 2001
The micro-business space—defined often as home offices and small
retailers with between one to 10 users&—has bedeviled Microsoft,
which has tried to provide a well-accepted solution within this niche.
Some published reports claim that the micro-business space is where the
company's competitors such as Linux have enjoyed success. But Microsoft
hopes to turn it around with a little-known capability in Windows XP Professional
known as peer-to-peer networking. This feature allows these micro-businesses
to easily deploy a functional network without a server-class machine.
Windows XP's peer-to-peer networking capability is based on the following
- A physical network that connects all computers
- Folder sharing
- Printer sharing
- Sharing-level permissions
- Workgroup networking model (not domain)
- Basic Internet firewall
It's called peer-to-peer networking, but one of the machines in the network
is actually made superior to the others. While all machines are capable
of sharing folders and printers, the "mothership" computer (a user workstation)
is designated to host the Internet and firewall configuration. Windows
XP does this by creating a separation zone between the network interfaces
(e.g. NIC cards) on the mothership computer. It's here that the built-in
firewall capability provides basic network address translation (NAT) that
effectively prevents shared resources from being visible on the Internet.
Granted, this firewall capability may not meet everyone's needs, but at
least it's available. I don't blame you if you seek out a more robust
hardware-based firewall to increase your security comfort level.
Stepping into Peer-to-Peer
So let's get going. I assume you have Windows XP Professional in front
of you. Note that the Windows XP Home Edition does not support this peer-to-peer
- Click Start, Control Panel, Network Connections.
- Select Set up a home or small office network link under Network Tasks
on the left-side.
- The Welcome to the Network Setup Wizard screen on the Network Setup
Wizard appears. Click Next.
- The Before you continue screen appears, listing the steps that will
be completed. Click the checklist for creating a network link. The result
is shown in Figure 1.
|Figure 1. The steps for creating a home or small
office network screen is truly a methodology for successfully deploying
a peer-to-peer network. (Click image to view larger version.)
- Close the Steps for creating a home or small office network screen.
- Click Next on the Before you continue screen.
- If the wizard finds disconnected networking interfaces, you'll see
the screen in Figure 2, entitled The Wizard found disconnected network
hardware. You'll need to connect the network interfaces or select the
Ignore disconnected network hardware checkbox to continue. Once you've
resolved this problem, click Next.
|Figure 2. You need to resolve network interface
connectivity before proceeding to a connection method. (Click image
to view larger version.)
- The Select a connection method screen appears. Here you will select
from three connection options (see Figure 3). Make your selection and
|Figure 3. Define the network Internet connection
topology. (Click image to view larger version.)
Note: For the first computer you set up, which typically acts as the
"mothership" of the peer-to-peer network, you should click the This computer
connects directly to the Internet radio button. For the computers that
you set up thereafter (second, third, fourth, etc.), select the second
radio button, which says that another computer is already hosting and
managing the Internet connection.
- On the Select your Internet connection screen, select the network
connection that relates to the Internet under Connections and click
Next. You must make a selection or the Next button will remain grayed
out (see Figure 4).
|Figure 4. Configuring the Internet connection.
(Click image to view larger version.)
- The next screen, Your computer has multiple connections, is very important
for both Internet connectivity and firewall issues (see Figure 5). It's
here you begin to assist the wizard by defining the "inside" network
adapter (local area network) and the "wild-side" network adapter (Internet
connection). Make the appropriate selection and click Next. In my case,
I selected Let me choose the connections to my network.
|Figure 5. Establishing the routed connection
between local computers and the Internet. (Click image to view larger
Note. Figure 5 is conceptually similar to the early screens of the Internet
Connection Wizard (ICW) in Small Business Server 2000 where the inside/wild-side
definition occurs. If you select Determine the appropriate connection
for me (Recommended), Windows XP performs tests to see which network interface
returns Internet information.
- Because of the selection I made in, the Select the connections to
bridge appears. This is shown in Figure 6. Make the connection selection
and click Next.
|Figure 6. Select the network interface that applies
to the local area network. (Click image to view larger version.)
- Complete the Computer description and Computer name fields on the
Give this computer a description and name screen (similar to Figure
7), and click Next.
|Figure 7. Name the computer and provide a description.
(Click image to view larger version.)
- Complete the Workgroup name field on the Name your network screen
and click Next (see Figure 8).
|Figure 8. You are creating a workgroup, not a
domain. (Click image to view larger version.)
- Review your settings on the Ready to apply your network settings screen
and click Next (see Figure 9).
|Figure 9. Your selected settings are summarized
here. Don't forget you can select this information with your mouse
and copy and paste it into a WordPad document for future reference.
(Click image to view larger version.)
- Click Finish after the configuration process is completed.
You have now created the mothership machine on the peer-to-peer network.
Next, you will configure a client computer (any other client computers
you add to the peer network will be configured in a similar manner). This
is easily accomplished by running the wizard on the other Windows XP Professional
computers and at Step 8 (see Figure 3), selecting the second radio button.
You would then complete the screens that follow asking for network naming
The only missing component in Windows XP's peer-to-peer networking solution
is native SMTP e-mail support. With the solution you just implemented,
you still must continue to use POP-based e-mail. This means that two co-workers
who want to transfer a file as an e-mail attachment must do so over the
Internet, not locally. If the attachment is large and the Internet connection
is slow, this shortcoming will reveal itself front and center. My guess
is that Microsoft will correct this limitation in the future by providing
some type of workgroup post office SMTP-based e-mail solution.
Child Play or Good MCSE Consulting Pay?
So is this Windows XP peer-to-peer networking capability just child's
play for the MCSE? No. There are bona fide experienced MCSEs already building
their consulting businesses around this new micro-business opportunity.
One MCSE doing this is Bea Mulzer of Intellisys in Cocoa, Florida. Bea,
who is also an active MCT teaching at an AATP college, assessed that the
Windows XP peer-to-peer networking capability was a perfect fit for her
marketplace. As told to me, aside from NASA and a handful of prime contractors,
the Florida landscape is decorated with micro-businesses (and alligators).
In the past, Bea had met some resistance with a server-based solution
such as Small Business Server 2000 over cost. Just a few weeks after the
Times Square release of Windows XP, Bea had already implemented two peer-to-peer
networks. This is truly a case of an MCSE consultant detecting and capitalizing
on a new niche—not a bad accomplishment in this era of shifting technology
Not Lost On Microsoft and Gateway
The type of early Windows XP success that Bea the MCSE has achieved isn't
lost on Microsoft. The company not only knew that this micro-business
market existed and was underserved, but it's also the SBS "farm league."
A micro-business today is a bona fide small business tomorrow. So Microsoft
can sell these types of business the Small Business Server 2000 product
one year hence, when the micro-business outgrows peer-to-peer networking.
Gateway Computers has also latched onto that idea, with its network of
300 stores dedicated to serving small businesses. Several business solution
advisors in different regions of the U.S. have told me that they sell
a lot of machines to businesses with only a handful of users. These same
BSAs are only too happy to sell a Gateway server down the road when the
firm wants to implement a true client-server LAN.
All MCSEs should appropriately scrutinize technology solutions
before deployment. And while the peer-to-peer networking capability is
easy to set up and manage, the bigger question is, will it enjoy Microsoft's
support in the future? In my interaction with the development team at
Microsoft, I get the sense that the small business sector has support
at the highest levels and XP's peer-to-peer networking capability will