First, it’s important to understand that any Windows-based system can be network to any other Windows-based system, even if they’re running different versions of Windows. The only requirement, aside from some minor troubleshooting discussed below, is that the network is set up properly. This includes Internet Connection Sharing, as well as file and printer sharing through My Network Places (Network Neighborhood in earlier versions of Windows).
Here are some common problems that people encounter when connecting computers running different versions of Windows:
- How do I share an Internet connection between two different versions of Windows?
The instructions for setting up Internet Connection Sharing at Annoyances.org (as well as Windows Me Annoyances, the book) cover all versions of Windows that support ICS. To set up a Windows 2000 system as the host, for example, just follow the Windows-2000-specific instructions for setting up a host. Then, to set up a different version of Windows as the client, follow the client-setup instructions for that platform as well. All versions of ICS are compatible with one-another, so mixing and matching is no problem; just follow the appropriate instructions.
- I can’t access other computers from My Network Places/Network Neighborhood
The most common cause is authentication. Windows 2000 and Windows XP both take security very seriously, and won’t allow remote access to any computer without a valid username and password. Conversely, Windows 9x/Me has virtually no security, and does not enforce any sort of user authentication. Here’s what you need to do:
- Make sure your Windows 9x/Me systems all have valid users logged in; if you don’t see Log off (username) in the Start Menu, then you’re not really logged in. (Note that some early versions of Windows 95 might be a little flaky here).
- Also, make sure you’ve entered a password; although Windows 9x/Me allows blank passwords, Windows XP/2000 does not. (If you don’t want to enter a password each time you start Windows, see this article.)
- If you have more than one Windows 9x/Me-based computer, and you don’t care about security between the computers in your home/office, it will probably be easiest to give all the computers the same username and password.
- Then, in any Windows XP/2000 systems you want to connect to, use the Users and Passwords icon in Control Panel to add a new user: the username and password should match those entered on the Windows 9x/Me systems. You can make as many user accounts as you need, and even set different permissions depending on what you want them to be able to access (make them Administrators if you want everyone to have full access).
- Also: if you’re using Windows XP with the built-in Internet Connection Firewall and you can’t connect to it from other computers, see How to Share Files through Windows XP’s Internet Connection Firewall.
- I can’t “see” other computers in My Network Places/Network Neighborhood
If one or more computers is not showing up in your My Network Places/Network Neighborhood folder, one of the computers is not configured properly. Here are some things to look for:
- Make sure none of computers are set up to use a “Windows NT Domain” or a “Business Domain.”
- All of the computers should have the same setting for “Workgroup.”
- All computer should have the same protocol, clients, and services installed (e.g. TCP/IP, File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks, and Client for Microsoft Networks). Note that these protocols you have slightly different names in different versions of Windows. If you’re using Internet Connection Sharing, the NetBEUI protocol should not be used; otherwise, you may need NetBEUI in order to access other computers on your network.
- No two computers should have the same computer name.
- Some computer names supported by Windows 2000 and Windows XP are not compatible with Windows 9x/Me, such as names with spaces. Simplify all your computer names and try again.
- Don’t discount the possibility of a hardware malfunction or a bad network cable. New network adapters (NICs) are ridiculously cheap and easily replaced.
If you’re not sure if your network is set up properly, or if you simply want to learn more about everything you can do with a network, networking fully documented in each of the Annoyances books.