One of Windows XP’s lesser known features makes automatically switching network settings between different types of networks – wired, wireless, or whatever – a breeze. Learn all about the feature in this week’s Q&A.;
By Ron Pacchiano
Q. My boss has two computers — his office PC and a laptop that he uses while traveling and at home. Whenever my boss comes back from a trip, he usually has a bunch of data that he needs to transfer over to the office PC. Since we use static IP addresses in our office, before he can transfer the files, I first have to configure his laptop to function on our network. Then, before he removes the laptop from the office, I have to reconfigure it to use the previous network settings, or he will be unable to use the laptop at home (or in most hotels).
My question is this, is there a way for me to configure the laptop with a static IP address so that it can participate on our company network and then have it automatically revert back to obtaining an IP address automatically when used elsewhere? I’ve tried showing him how to do this manually a few times, but like most executives, he’s having trouble doing it correctly. FYI: His laptop is running Windows XP Professional and our network is based on Microsoft Small Business Server.
Any suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!
A. This is a common problem faced by many IT managers, and in the past there wasn’t a very simple or straightforward solution for resolving it. Pre-Windows XP solutions typically involved utilizing a third-party utility or, for the more creative IT manager, setting up custom script files for implementing the new settings. While this worked, it was often problematic and typically caused confusion with the office staff (particularly executives).
One of the lesser known features in Windows XP is Automatic Configuration for Multiple Networks. Past versions of Windows required you to remember complex network settings and change them each time you moved your computer from one network to another. Fortunately, Windows XP’s automatic configuration makes it easy for you to move a mobile computer from a home network to the Local Area Network (LAN) in your office without the need to manually reconfigure TCP/IP settings. This feature is useful whether you move your computer between wired networks, wireless networks, or any other networked environment.
The way it works is simple. If your computer cannot find your network, it will automatically try an alternative configuration. This will work on networks using either a Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) server or static IP address settings. To configure Windows XP’s Automatic Configuration feature, just follow these simple steps.
- Open Network Connections. If it isn’t displayed on your desktop, it can be found in the Control Panel. (Using Windows XP’s Category View for the Control Panel, click Start, Control Panel, Network and Internet Connections, and then click Network Connections.)
- Right-click the network connection that you want to configure, and then click Properties.
- On the General tab, select the Internet Protocol (TCP/IP), and then click the Properties button.
- On the General tab, click Obtain an IP address automatically. This will allow the Laptop to work on your boss’s home network.
- On the Alternate Configuration tab, click User configured and then enter the appropriate settings for your office environment. This includes the:
- IP address
- Subnet mask
- Default gateway
- Preferred and alternate DNS server
- Preferred and alternate WINS server
- Click OK.
You’ll need to be logged on as an administrator or a member of the Administrators group to complete this procedure. A network that’s using policies might prevent these settings from working, but in this case I don’t foresee that being an issue.
Automatically Configuring Wireless Network Clients
You might be interested to know that this technique can also be used to automatically configure Wireless Network Clients. With automatic configuration for wireless networks, you can create a list of wireless networks and specify the order in which to attempt connections. To configure settings on the Wireless Networks tab, you must be logged on as an administrator, and you must use a wireless network adapter that supports the Wireless Zero Configuration service. Check with the manufacture of your wireless network equipment to see if your wireless adapter is compliant with this standard.
To configure automatic wireless network configuration, just follow these steps:
- Open Network Connections.
- Right-click Wireless Network Connection, and then click Properties.
- On the Wireless Networks tab, do one of the following:
- To enable automatic wireless network configuration, select the Use Windows to configure my wireless network settings check box. This check box is selected by default.
- To disable automatic wireless network configuration, clear the Use Windows to configure my wireless network settings check box.
Windows XP will alert you when your network card detects signals from an available wireless network. In the list of Available networks, click the network name, and then click Configure.
Your wireless network card will be automatically configured to match the settings of that network and a network connection attempt will be made. If a network does not broadcast its network name, it will not appear under Available networks. To add a network that you know is available, under Preferred networks, click Add. In Wireless Network Properties, specify the network name (Service Set Identifier) and, if needed, the wireless network key settings. The list of available networks can be updated at any time by simply clicking Refresh.
If you are connecting to multiple wireless networks, your preferred network might not be at the top of the list. The order in which Windows XP attempts to connect with the preferred networks can easily be modified. Under Preferred networks, select the wireless network that you want to move to a new position on the list and then click the Move up or Move down button respectively.
That’s all there is to it. Once you implement these configurations changes, your boss should be able to move his laptop between his home and office without any network difficulties. Now go and ask for a raise!