Local Area Networking for beginners: ..or, how to get files from one computer to another without burning a CD or using a USB thumb-drive

So you’ve got a PC in the home office upstairs in the spare bedroom, a Mac in the family room and another machine in the TV room for watching downloaded movies on your widescreen TV?

How many times a week do you wish you could move files from one machine to another without having to burn them to a CD ROM or use your iPod as a USB flash drive? Maybe you share a house with someone who already knows how to do this, but whenever you ask them how it’s done they start using words you’ve never heard before and you start feeling confused?

You’re not dumb though, right? You can follow some simple steps that show you how easy it is to set up a Local Area Network, right?

OK then – let’s get it on!

  • Turn on all the computers in the house which you know already have an internet connection.
  • Go to the machine which has the files on it you want to move to another computer. If this machine is running Microsoft Windows, open ‘My Network Places’ and in the side panel click ‘Set up a home or small office network’ and follow the on-screen instructions. If this has already been done in the past, by someone else, you might already have a button in the side bar of the ‘My Documents’ folder which reads ‘Share this folder’. If so, click it and follow the on-screen prompts. You will need to repeat this for all folders which are not directly under ‘My Documents’, if you want to be able to browse these folders on another machine on the network.
  • Now go to the other machine(s) in the house you want to send files to and open any window. In the ‘Tools’ menu, click ‘Map Network Drive’ and assign a drive letter to the folder you have just shared on the other machine, which will appear in a drop down menu.
  • You can now drag and drop between all the machines which are sharing on your network.

All the files in this folder are actually on another machine, but they can be browsed as if they are local files, because I have mapped the shared folder on the remote machine as a Network Drive.

Piece of cake, right? See, I told you so.. ..what’s that? Say again? Oh, erm.. It’s saying, “Windows has experienced a nervous break down, please click OK or Cancel to smash your brains out in frustration”, is it?

Hmm, that’s odd. OK, well try this then…

  • Buy a Mac.
  • Open ‘System Preferences’ and click ‘Sharing’. Choose the folder you want to share and the protocol you want to share it over, i.e., Windows (Samba), The Web, BlueTooth.. and so on.
  • Open a window on any machine also on the network. If that machine is running Windows, in the address bar type the address shown in the Mac’s Sharing System Preferences panel, usually something like afp://192.168.1.3/, or if it’s another Mac, just open any folder and click on the shared machine’s name in the side panel of any window.

Yeah, I know you’re looking at me like, “We know about the Mac thing, Jim. But seriously. What do I do to get all of this working on Windows?”. Well, I don’t mean to put you off, but I have done this sort of set-up for almost all of my technically challenged friends and family and the fixes and workarounds I have had to come up with to get it working, when things haven’t gone according to plan, have ranged from the out and out re-installation of Windows from scratch, to buying a new router, a new computer and many other points in between.

See, the most likely bottle neck you’re running into, without getting any help or indication from Windows as to why things aren’t working as they appear they should, is usually to do with the way the router (that black thing plugged into the cable modem with the wireless antennas sticking out of it) allows or disallows certain kinds of packets to flow through it.

It’s beyond the scope of this quick tips guide to say anything more on correct router configuration than simply to suggest that any issues you might be having are probably to do with that, but I will finish by saying that, daunting though it might seem at first, to have a dig around inside the configuration pages of your router for yourself, there isn’t really anything you can do to permanently mess things up, so long as you know how to do a hard factory reset / restore on the router itself, should things begin to get out of hand and confusing.

But, I underline, you really shouldn’t have to resort to messing with anything on your router, if you’re confident that Windows is working properly. IF, on the other hand, you can’t honestly say that it is – maybe you’ve been meaning to reinstall everything for a while, ever since that weird virus pop-up thing which made you loose loads of work happened; go ahead and do that first, before tinkering with other hardware which might be already working perfectly fine.

Hope that helps as an introduction, let me know how you get on!

5 comments on “Local Area Networking for beginners: ..or, how to get files from one computer to another without burning a CD or using a USB thumb-drive

  1. Can’t I just send those files by email? As it is, I already have some files sent to myself in a special GMail account I opened just for that, so If I’m travelling and lost or forget my USB memory I can retrieve the basics. (My server offers cyberstorage, but the company I work for has such a small volume their service isn’t worth what it would cost.)

  2. I usually email stuff to myself too such as word files and pictures, but later on today i’m going to have to try and send 2.26 GB worth of video to my other computer, which i’m going to have to use these instructions for!

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