Vista’s firewall is significantly beefed up from the firewall in Windows XP – it monitors outgoing traffic, it’s able to adjust easily when a computer is moved from one network to another, and the settings are easier to find in Vista’s Network and Sharing Center.

Firewalls have become far more important on individual computers as our lifestyles change. Many home users and most business users are behind a firewall when they sit at a computer in the home or office – the router or wireless access point controlling the Internet connection is acting as a simple but effective firewall. With the explosive growth in notebook computers, there’s a lot of information on computers that are outside the edge of the network, away from the home or office, exposed to networks and Internet connections that are not necessarily trustworthy.

When a Vista computer connects to a network for the first time – an unfamiliar wireless network or a cable plugged in at a new location – Vista inquires whether the network is Home, Work, or Public.

If you are connecting directly to the Internet or in a location where you will not access any other nearby computers, choose Public. Vista will make your computer invisible on the network; it will turn off file and printer sharing; and it will lock down various services.

On the other hand, if you are safely behind a router or another firewall and you will be communicating with other computers – sharing files or using a shared printer, for example – choose Home or Work.

I found myself wondering – what is the difference between Home and Work? What different services and features would be enabled in one but not the other?

According to this article, they’re identical. No difference at all. That leaves the interesting question of why they’re presented as separate choices – but don’t worry about that, just pick one when it’s appropriate.

(If you’re detail-minded, you should know that a computer joining a company domain won’t be asked about network location. There’s an additional set of policies for a domain and the Vista computer automatically adopts them.)

I see notebooks frequently that have multiple network connections – a Verizon/Sprint connection, say, along with an 802.11 connection and a network cable. I’ve learned from experience that Vista examines all available network connections and chooses the most restrictive firewall policy. If there is any Public connection anywhere on a network, the Vista computers are going to lock themselves down. I’ve added that to my troubleshooting when I can’t print to a shared printer or reach a shared folder.

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