HomeGroup is a feature exclusive to Windows 7.
It enables you to easily share music, photos, documents and even printers between different switched-on PCs on your home network without having to spend time configuring each system – you set up the HomeGroup using one PC, then join it using other machines on your network.
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It's a really useful system and is so simple to get going – just follow my step-by-step guide below.
The great thing about HomeGroup is that you can share as much or as little as you want, and I'll also show you how to do that later in the tutorial.
You can only create a HomeGroup in the Home Premium, Professional or Ultimate Editions of Windows 7, but you can join one with any version.
1. Find the HomeGroup settings
You can get to your HomeGroup settings various ways, including searching for HomeGroup in the Start menu, but I've gone to Control Panel and under Network and Internet I've selected Choose HomeGroup and sharing options. By the way, you can only be connected to one HomeGroup at any one time.
2. Create your HomeGroup
As you can see from the screenshot above, there's currently no HomeGroup set up on our system. This window just gives you a little bit of blurb about what a HomeGroup is, so you can safely click through it by selecting Create HomeGroup at the bottom of the screen.
3. Choose which files
The wizard now asks you which libraries you wish to share. You can be more precise about included files and folders at a later stage, but this is just a general set-up step. Sharing printers means you'll be able to print from one machine using the printer on another computer.
4. Leave it out
If in doubt, feel free to leave a library out – you'll be able to add it easily at a later stage. Here I've decided that I actually don't want to share my music and videos, but that I do want to share my documents so that I can access them from other machines on the network.
5. Start sharing
Click Next and your HomeGroup is created – this may take a while depending on the speed of your PC. If you're worried about sharing your files, remember that only computers you allow (and that are running on your home network) can access your files. Click Next again when the process has finished.
6. Your password
You now see this screen, with an automatically generated password. You need this password for other computers to join your HomeGroup. This is no substitute for password-protecting your wireless network – your router should be secure, too. Write down or print your password using the link. Click Finish.
7. The nerve centre
Now you're presented with this screen, which is the nerve centre of all your HomeGroup settings. As you can see, you can alter the libraries that you're sharing as well as view or print the HomeGroup password, should you have forgotten it. You can access the troubleshooter from here, too.
8. Change settings
I've changed my mind and decided that I want to share my music as well. Check the box next to the library in question, then click Save changes. My HomeGroup is now fully set up on my first machine and so next I'll explain how you can connect up another machine to the HomeGroup.
9. Connecting another machine
Now I'm on a second PC – my laptop downstairs. It's connected to the same wireless network as my first PC. Once again, go to your HomeGroup settings in Control Panel. You can see that the machine has detected there is already a HomeGroup on the network, created by my first machine. Click Join now.
10. Which libraries?
As with my first computer, my laptop is now asked which libraries I want it to share with other machines. This time I've asked it to share all the media on this computer but none of the documents – I don't really store too many files on my laptop. Now click Next.
11. Enter the password
Now you're asked for the password that you saw on your first computer. Remember that if you've forgotten it, you can return to your first computer to view it or to print it out. The password is case-sensitive, so you have to type it carefully. Once that's done, click Next.
12. You're connected!
This screen means you're connected to the HomeGroup – it really is that simple to share your media and documents, and you'll be connected to the HomeGroup every time you start your Windows 7 PC. I'll just click Finish and I'm done. Now repeat the process on any other Windows 7 PCs you want to connect up.
13. Indexing libraries
This screen means Windows 7 is still indexing your libraries ahead of sharing them – I just leave it alone for a few minutes. If you connect to a different network using your HomeGroup machine, this same screen displays "The HomeGroup is not available because you're not connected to the home network."
14. Leaving a HomeGroup
If you really want to leave a HomeGroup, it's just as easy as joining one. In your HomeGroup settings (under Control Panel > Network and Internet), click Leave the HomeGroup. You then see this screen of options, which is basically checking that you do want to leave. Click Leave the HomeGroup again.
15. Share or exclude files and folders
I want to exclude some folders from being shared. Navigate to the file or folder you want to exclude, and select it. In the toolbar, click Share with, then click Nobody. Should you want to include other folders, select them and choose either HomeGroup (Read) or HomeGroup (Read/Write) from this menu.
16. And that's it!
You now have a fully-functioning HomeGroup. If you encounter any problems, there's a HomeGroup troubleshooter to ease your pain, available on the main HomeGroup settings page within Control Panel > Network and Internet. Click Start the HomeGroup troubleshooter.