The homegroup function of Windows 7, while convenient, is by far not everybody's cup of tea. It is neither compatible with older Windows versions or Linux, nor does it give access to certain system-wide folders. Here's how you can share folders with the old, but trusty Network Sharing Settings.
With the introduction of homegroups in Windows 7, setting up a home network has become much easier. While this is a great and comfortable feature for Windows 7 PCs, it unfortunately doesn't work with older versions of Windows or Linux at all, forcing users to resort the the conventional Network Sharing Settings. Ironically, these have become somewhat more complicated in return and tend to impede users with one error message after another as to why even simple file transfers aren't possible. No need to rack your brain over these issues however - here's how you can properly enable the sharing feature in three steps and keep track of your shared folders.
Note: Make sure that you are using a NAT-Router (applies to most any router) as a medium to access the internet if you wish to use this method. Otherwise, you might release your files not only to your local network, but to the whole internet. Also, make sure to check that all PCs in the network are using the same workgroup. This might also be of interest: How to create homegroups in Windows 7 and 8
1. Sharing a folder in a network
Conventionally, you can most easily clear folders or drives for network use in Windows 7 with these steps:
1. Right-click on the folder/drive that you wish the share and select “Properties”.
2. Select the tab “Sharing” and click on “Advanced Sharing...”
3. Tick the box “Share this folder” and enter a a share name for it.
4. Click on permissions, mark the group entry “Everyone” and configure the network permissions for this folder in the lower field according to your requirements. If you just want to release your files for copying, allowing “Read” is usually enough.
2. Setting the right permissions
More often than not, you will also have to configure the user entry “Everybody” with the desired rights before it can be used properly for shared folders. To do so,
1. Right-click on the folder/drive in question and select “Properties” again.
2. This time, switch to the tab “Security” and click on “Edit...”, followed by “Add...”.
3. In this window, enter “Everybody” into the empty field at the bottom and click on “OK”.
4. Take a quick look at the permissions for “Everybody” and make sure they are all set correctly. If everything is in order, close all windows with “OK”.
3. Deactivating password-protected sharing
At this point, we're nearly done. Typically, if you take a look into your network drop-down menu in the left panel of the “Computer” directory, you will see the names of all other systems connected to your network. Trying to access them is usually rather straightforward, but often ends with a password confirmation prompt. To disable that,
1. Summon your control panel and open the “Network and Sharing Center”.
2. Click on “Change advanced sharing settings.
3. Look for your active profile at the top, expand it (if it isn't already) and scroll down to the option “Password protected sharing”.
4. Tick the option “Turn off password protected sharing” and click on “Save changes”. Be advised that this will make all shared folders readily accessible for anyone inside your home network.
Tip: To make double sure that your router (and by extension your folders) aren't vulnerable from the outside, pay your router configuration menu a visit and close the ports 445, 139, 138 and 137 manually, if they happen to be open.
Also take a look at: Extend your Wi-Fi Network
Tracking shared folders and files
Now that you have set up some shared folders, you can easily monitor them with a built-in Windows tool. To open it, hold down the Windows-key + R and type “fsmgmt.msc” into the prompt. This will open the “Shared Folders” window. Look on the left side for the entry “Shares” and click on it to get a convenient list of all your shared folders. By default, this also includes all directories for the administrator of the system (marked by a $ symbol, such as D$), so there's no need to be confused by that.
You can also get an overview of who is currently using your shared folders by clicking on the entry “Open files” to the left. Unfortunately, this list will be deleted upon exiting the sharing manager. To save the 'evidence', you can make a text backup of it by opening the menu point “Action” and clicking on “Export List”.