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The NetBEUI Blues

This week we'll show you how to install the NetBEUI protocol on your Windows XP systems and explain why you might be having problems seeing all of the computers on your network.

By Ron Pacchiano

Q. I would like to install and use the NetBEUI protocol on my Windows XP Professional workstation, but can't seem to find it. I went to Network Connections and tried to add an additional protocol to the system, but NetBEUI wasn't an option. One of the computer technicians at my office said that NetBEUI was no longer available in Windows XP. Is this true? If not, where do I find it, and how do I install it? Thanks!

A. Well, your friend at the office is right -- NetBEUI is no longer official supported in Windows XP. More information about Microsoft's discontinued support for NetBEUI can be found in the Microsoft Knowledge Base at http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;en-us;306059. At the same time, your friend is also wrong -- there is still a way to get and install NetBEUI in Windows XP; it's just not supported by Microsoft.

For those not familiar with it, the NetBIOS Extended User Interface, or NetBEUI as it is commonly referred to, is a new, extended version of NetBIOS, the program that lets computers communicate within a local area network. NetBEUI (pronounced net-BOO-ee) formalizes the arrangement of information in a data transmission (or frame format) that was not specified as part of NetBIOS. The NetBEUI protocol was developed in 1985 by IBM and later adopted by Microsoft. The NetBEUI protocol is a non-routable protocol, which means that it can't travel over Internet routers. This makes it suitable for use only on small LANs.

In spite of these limitations, it was a popular protocol in its day and many people still use it. Even though Microsoft doesn't officially support it, you can still use it with Windows XP. The NetBEUI protocol can actually be found on the Windows XP CD-ROM in the VALUEADD directory and can be manually installed from this location. Complete instructions for configuring it can be found in the Microsoft Knowledge Base at http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;EN-US;301041. Good Luck!

Q. I have a home network made up of three computers, each running Windows XP. All of the machines are working fine and have access to the Internet. Internet access is provided by a cable modem connected to a Linksys router. The computers are getting their IP addresses from the router, which is configured with DHCP services.

The problem I'm having is that when I go into Network Places, I can't see any of the other systems in my workgroup. I can ping each of these PCs, but I can't seem to get to them or access any shared files or folders. Can you suggest anything that might help me figure out why these systems can't see each other?

A. This is a somewhat common question, and there are a number of things you can check for. Normally, the first thing I would ask you to do is verify that all of your PCs are members of the same workgroup. Different workgroup names are a common problem in peer-to-peer networks and would make it difficult to access other PCs. Additionally, since DHCP is handling your IP addresses, I doubt anything has been mis-configured here.

Assuming the computers are all members of the same workgroup, the inability to see other computers in Network Places leads me to believe that this is a NetBIOS issue. You see, in order to share information between computer systems, they need to be able to communicate with each other. To do this they need a common language, which we call protocols. TCP/IP, NETBEUI, IPX, SNA, and AppleTalk are all examples of protocols.

Server Message Block, or SMB, is the primary protocol used with PCs to share files, disks, directories, printers, and (in some cases) even COM ports across a network. Any system that makes use of the SMB standard should be able to communicate with any other system that also adheres to this standard.

An SMB client or server expects to find a NetBIOS interface, regardless of which protocol is actually being used. SMB-based networks use a variety of underlying protocols, but the most popular are "NetBIOS over NetBEUI" and "NetBIOS over TCP/IP." It might be helpful to think of NetBIOS as a passenger in a vehicle, while TCP/IP, NETBEUI, and IPX are the vehicles. While each is a different type of vehicle (think car, boat, and plane), they all carry passengers to their destinations. In this case, the destination would be the system you're trying to share information with.

So without NetBIOS enabled and properly configured, these PCs would be unable to communicate with each other. So I think what you need to do is verify that NetBIOS is enabled to run over TCP/IP. This is very simple to do, and I'll walk you through it step-by-step.

To enable NetBIOS over TCP/IP you'll need to go to the Control Panel. The Control Panel can be displayed in either Category or Classic View. If you're in the Category View, you'll need to select the Network and Internet Connections icon and then click on Network Connections. If you're in the Classic View, you'll just need to double-click the Network Connections icon. Right-click Local Area Connection and select Properties. Next, highlight the Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) and click Properties. Go to the General tab, click Advanced, and select the WINS tab. Under the NetBIOS setting, click "Enable NetBIOS over TCP/IP," and then click OK two times. When finished, close the Local Area Connection Properties dialog box.

The last thing I would suggest is to verify that the Computer Browser service is running. The Computer Browser service maintains an updated list of computers on the network, and it supplies this list to computers that are designated as browsers. If this service is stopped, the list is neither updated nor maintained, which would also prevent you from seeing the other systems on your network.

To start the Computer Browser Service, click Start and then right-click on My Computer and select Manage. In the console tree (on the left), expand Services and Applications and click Services. Now, in the right details pane locate and verify that the Computer Browser service is started (the services are listed alphabetically). If it isn't, simply right-click on the Computer Browser service and click Start. To make sure it restarts the next time you boot your computer, right-click on the Computer Browser service again and click Properties. Where it says Startup Type, you want to configure it for Automatic and press OK. When finished, close the Computer Management window. It can occasionally take a while for the browser service to update itself, so don't expect instantaneous results.


Use our feedback form to submit your questions on home or SOHO networking issues. We cannot guarantee to answer every question we get, but we'll consider them all.



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