Networking is one of XP's strengths. Earlier versions of Windows had their weaknesses, but XP offers easy connectivity, simple setup and one-click file and printer sharing – and it's easy to turn features on and off for each user.

However, Microsoft has not rested on its laurels. Vista offers a range of networking enhancements, including a two-way firewall and support for IPv6 (the "next generation" Internet protocol, intended to gradually replace IPv4, which is now showing its 20-year-old age). A nifty new globe icon in the system tray shows at a glance when a computer has internet access. Recognizing the risks of the wireless age, Microsoft has also added the new "network location" setting, which applies security settings based on the type of network you are connected to. It's confusing to use, however, with some applicants dividing the networks into three sections (home, office, and public place) and others referring to just two (public and private).

Vista also has a new Network and Sharing Center. This applet is supposed to make network setup easier, but in practice it gives you almost no useful tools or information - just a range of sharing options that most people will only need when they log in for the first time to a network.

There are also boring backsteps. In XP, dead network connections could often be revived with the repair function, which simply flushed the connection settings and reconnected. In Vista, this has been replaced by Diagnose and Repair – a process that runs for 30 seconds trying (and normally failing) to identify the cause of the problem before you have a chance to log back in.

Worse still, some Vista users have encountered a bug that causes cross-network file copy operations to take up to ten times longer than they should, making it extremely difficult to use Vista on a network. Many fixes have been suggested, including more than one official fix from Microsoft, but no one-size-fits-all fix has yet been found. We live in hope that one will be included in the next SP1, but until then it's a black mark against Vista.

A proven system that offers functionality while remaining easy to configure, although the lack of IPv6 could be an issue in the future.

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Some new networking features are worthwhile, but others lead to an overall worse user experience than in XP.

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