Windows 7 HomeGroup not so hot in Beta 1

In a more recent post, I finally got HomeGroup to work — third time is the charm. The fact that I had difficulty with a virtual machine version of Windows 7 is something that I hope Microsoft can resolve. So I think this post is still valid. I will retest virtual installations with later releases of Windows 7.

In an earlier first impression post about Windows 7 Beta 1, I called Microsoft’s new HomeGroup feature brain dead. Well, after further review, I’m standing by that assessment. HomeGroup isn’t working here. The feature feels only partly implemented to me. And, normally I’d forgive Microsoft that foible, given this is Beta 1, except that Microsoft’s top dog for Windows 7 Engineering, Steven Sinofsky, just confirmed that Windows 7 will move straight to a release candidate build, skipping any other betas.

So, why do I say that when so many other reviewers are raving about HomeGroup? Well, here’s my experience.

I started by creating a HomeGroup on my Windows 7 test machine. Then I thoroughly tested networking with several other computers on my network, including a Vista machine, an XP machine, and two Macs. I had no trouble with either Vista or XP, networking the way any Windows user would on a peer network. In that mode, Windows 7 networks exactly like Vista does. All computers, even the Macs, are using the same workgroup name. My Vista and XP machines can file-share back and forth with the Macs quite easily. The Windows 7 machine could not. The Macs can connect to Windows 7 without trouble. Windows 7 sees the Macs but issues a path error when I try to force it to connect to them. I had run into this same Mac problem with my earlier test of Win 7 Beta 1 and the November release of Win 7. Networking is often dicey with beta versions of Windows, so this Mac issue wasn’t a huge surprise.

The only way to test the HomeGroup feature is with two Windows machines running Win 7. Unfortunately, I don’t have another PC available and suitable to be a Windows 7 test machine. So I downloaded Sun’s freely distributed VirtualBox software for the Mac. The hardest part about setting up VirtualBox was locating its Guest Additions (add-on drivers specific to your guest OS). It wasn’t where Sun’s documentation said it was. But there were several variations on the installation directions, and one of them worked. In all other regards, VirtualBox is an impressive product. Anyone who has used either VMware or the Parallels virtualization tools will recognize similarities.

VirtualBox has a pre-configured Windows 7 guest-OS mode, and that made set up easy. It took me only a little over an hour to rig up both VirtualBox and Windows 7 on one of my MacBook Pros.

With the two Windows 7 installations running, I expected to have no problems with HomeGroup. Even though there’s clearly some sort of issue with Windows 7 and Mac networking, the fact that the Macs could connect with Windows 7 left me feeling confident. It’s actually not uncommon for the Mac to have an issue networking with a Windows box while the virtual machine of Windows running on the same Mac has no problems connecting. But if you’re inclined to discount my experience with HomeGroup, this would be the best thing to hang your hat on.

So, with Windows 7 running on the Mac, I proceeded to try HomeGroup. You’re supposed to create your HomeGroup on one machine and then from all other Windows 7 machines, use the Join HomeGroup function. But no matter how hard I tried, the two Windows 7 installations were unable to connect to one another. The Join HomeGroup dialog wouldn’t appear. I tried it in both directions. I also tried creating HomeGroups on both machines and making them use the same password. No go.

Note: It’s possible to change the HomeGroup password after the fact from the Network and Sharing Center or Control Panel. It’s not possible to change the Windows 7-assigned HomeGroup password while you’re initiating HomeGroup.

I probably would have put off posting my less-than-stellar experience with HomeGroup except that I decided to go looking for other people’s experiences, and it was not difficult to find other people having the exact same problems with HomeGroup that I was.

I’m sure that Microsoft will straighten out HomeGroup in most people’s Win 7 installations by the time the operating system ships. I’m sure I will get it to work, too. Although I still sort of doubt that this Windows Networking Wizard on minor steroids will truly obviate the need to fully understand the ins and outs of Windows networking.

One final note: For those of you who read my previous post on Windows 7 and disagreed with me about performance, my MacBook Pro-hosted virtual machine Windows 7 installation seems no faster or slower to me than the other one. Windows 7 feels like Vista to me.

Maybe it just feels faster because you’re not constantly being bombarded with those annoying UAC prompts?

4 Responses to “Windows 7 HomeGroup not so hot in Beta 1”

  1. MichaelHorowitz Says:

    I find that when Windows networking fails, very often a reference to \\ipaddress will show the shared files/folder on the machine at that IP address. Did you try this with Windows 7?

  2. Scot Says:

    Michael, what you are saying is especially true of Mac and Windows networking. I was able to network *without* HomeGroup by using this trick, or just by doing \\{Computer_Name}\. But even when I did that, the network browser (Networking folder) still didn’t kick in and remember these connections.

    More importantly, though, HomeGroup is supposed to handle this — for the uninitiated. Even though I was able to network in most cases (accessing Mac from Windows 7, no), HomeGroup did not work no matter what I did. Using the IP address method would be completely circumventing HomeGroup.

    The fact that you’re resorting to IP address networking is precisely what’s wrong with Windows peer networking, which, as I’ve written before, is balky. It only works the way it’s supposed to work about 80% of the time.

  3. MichaelHorowitz Says:

    The pattern here seems clear, Microsoft is a second class operation. New features are not well designed and buggy. Think Autorun and Autoplay. Not to mention error messages that rarely reflect the real problem. If, you even get an error message. Try entering the wrong WiFi password when connecting to a router with wpa-psk. No error message (at least in XP). That Vista didn’t work perfectly in terms of networking with XP is another illustration in this same vein.

    Thus, we sometimes have to fall back on referencing shared folders by IP address, specifically, as you say, to circumvent as much Microsoft code as possible. The decline of Microsoft is getting more and more obvious.

  4. Windows 7 Release Candidate: The Technologizer FAQ | Technologizer Says:

    […] not enthralled with the Homegroup feature, which lets you get at music, movies, photos, and other content stored around your home […]

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