Microsoft had a vision of a computer in every home, that’s been a reality for a while now. Not only do we have a computer in every home, we have a bunch of them. And our mobile phones have become tiny computers, with speedy CPUs, lots of memory and storage and broadband connection. Keeping track of all your information and devices can be messy, especially for those not tech-savvy.
See how I’ve organized my own personal home network and how you can use my configuration as a blueprint for your own.
Purpose of a Digital Lifestyle
Main goal behind an organized home network is to improve the way we interact with our computer devices. How do you avoid losing important photos, memories and information? How can you easily share the data between devices, so you’re not bound to a specific device or location to get hold of your information?
How can you make the digital lifestyle an enjoyable one, without troublesome downtime and tedious maintenance tasks like backups, crashes and restores?
Learn how you can safely reinstall and replace your computer without concerns.
Here is a video that shows how the digital lifestyle should be; it should be effortless, simple, clean and intuitive. As a long time computer user, I know this is rarely the truth.
A premise for this walkthrough is multiple personal computer devices. If you only have a single computer in your home, you won’t be able to do everything in the same manner. Additionally all our computers runs Windows and our focus is on Microsoft devices, but the same configuration can be done using Sony, Apple or other products.
Here is a list of some of the devices we will be integrating together in a seamless manner:
|LISA, SARSA||Our two Tablet PCs both running Windows 7.|
|GAMER||Our desktop computer, high-end graphics card and processor. Windows 7|
|HP, CASIO||We have two different cameras, both uses SD memory cards|
|2x HTC TyTN II
1x HTC MTeOR
|My Windows Mobile devices, the TyTN II devices use Windows Mobile 6.1.|
|Sony HDR-HC5||High-definition video camera. Connected using FireWire with the GAMER desktop computer.|
|Zune 8GB, Zune 30GB, iPod Touch, JOS MP-300, Creative Zen PMC||We have a bunch of audio players that we use. Easy synchronization is important.|
|Xbox 360||Connected to the surround receiver and television. Used to watch videos shared on the computers.|
|SERVER||Our Windows Home Server, used for backups and file sharing.|
Computer devices is only as good as their software, the software is half the functionality of digital devices. To be successful with a digital lifestyle, it’s important to choose software that is effective and functional for the needs you have. Apple has some very good software for Mac OS X and there are thousands of developers out there that do software for everything. As a primary Windows user (I used to be a Macintosh user back in pre-1998) I like to use Microsoft software as long as they fulfill my needs and requirements. Microsoft does provide quite a good deal of free software that you can use.
A note on the use of beta software: Many developers are releasing their products to public availability under beta-branding. This means the software comes with a limited warranty and support. There might be unexpected bugs, crashes and features that might not work. Please let this be a warning and use beta and pre-release software with caution.
|Operating System||Windows 7||Next generation version of Windows is scheduled to be released in 2009. Windows 7 has the best compatibility with digital devices of any OS and makes is very easy to share content on the network.|
|Cloud||Live Mesh and Live Mesh Mobile||Cloud Computing is the idea of using online computation power and storage. Storing information in the cloud ensures availability and security against hard drive failures. Live Mesh is available for Windows, Mac and Windows Mobile.|
|Sync||Windows Live Sync||You should consider which information you want to store online in the cloud and what you want to keep local. Videos, Photos and large files are best kept synchronized between computers in the local network.|
|Backup||Windows Home Server||WHS is essentially a computer without a monitor, a server, that automatically takes backup of all your computers and makes it very easy to restore in case of a disaster. Ideal solution for folder sharing. Alternative to WHS would be an external hard drive where you make a backup copy of important files.|
|Photo||Windows Live Photo Gallery||Part of the Windows Live Essentials and is a great software that you can use to tag and organize your photos. Use it to clean up your photo, remove “red-eye” and apply effects.|
|Windows Live Mail||Part of the Windows Live Essentials and supports both POP and IMAP. You can use this to connect with your Hotmail, Gmail or other email accounts.|
|Contacts||Windows Live Contacts||By utilizing Windows Live Contacts as your primary contacts database, you can decentralize the task of keeping up-to-date information on your contacts. You will automatically receive updates as your contacts update their details.|
|Communication||Windows Live Messenger and Skype||Live Messenger is one of the most popular Instant Messaging software and it’s integrated with your Live Contacts.
Skype is the best free voice over IP and video conference software available.
One of the first software I install on a new computer is Windows Live Essentials. Beginning from Windows 7, Microsoft have removed a lot of the included software. Windows Live Essentials includes a lot of software that fills the needs for a digital lifestyle.
Upon installation you can decide which parts you’d like to install. My suggestion is to choose Messenger, Mail, Writer (if you’re a blogger), Photo Gallery and potentially Family Safety if you have kids that use your computers. At the time of writing this post, Movie Maker is in an early beta and not very functional. I like to keep my web browsing experience as clean as possible, so I always avoid installing toolbars. Included with the package is Windows Live Sync.
Next installation is Live Mesh, this is software that allows you to sync and share data. The information you put in your Live Mesh folders is automatically synchronized with servers online, making that information accessible from anywhere, anytime. There is an overlap between Live Mesh and Windows Live Sync, but they can be used to fulfill different needs as I will demonstrate. Live Mesh is additionally more than just folders and files; it’s an operating environment for building lightweight applications that is distributed between devices and can be executed locally or in the browser.
Here is a table that explains some of the differences between Live Mesh and Windows Live Sync:
|Live Mesh||Windows Live Sync|
|Files Stored Online||File Stored Locally|
|Remote Desktop||Remote File Browsing|
|Rich Applications||Only Folder Sharing|
|Always Available||Requires PC to be on|
With Windows Live Sync, you can enable remote access (in the settings dialog) which gives you the ability to access everything on the computer. This only works if the computer is connected to Internet and the software is running. This is a functionality I don’t use as I don’t want to expose my whole computer to the Internet, yet if there is an occasion where I need this functionality, I can use Remote Desktop support in Live Mesh and enable this remote access from a remote location.
Here is a comparison of the two alternatives. Biggest change in the future is that the Live Mesh will have support for custom applications and not just folders.
Every year we produce an immersive amount of data. Storage capacity on computers has followed this trend, and most laptops comes with a few hundred gigabytes of storage. This makes it easily possible to walk around with all your files at any time.
Note: To avoid any major sync conflicts, the public folders are only configured under one of the local user accounts.
Documents that I write or collect are important and I often work on them on different devices. It’s therefore important to have them available everywhere. This is why I use Live Mesh for my documents. Research and science papers, PowerPoint presentations, Excel budgets ++.
Every month I take or collect hundreds of photos, they take up a lot of storage space. The way I organize all my photos is with folders of Year/Month/Event. Additionally, I try to tag my photos as much as possible, making it simpler to find them in the future. Photos are normally not edited after they have initially been saved and they take up gigabytes of storage, so I’m using Windows Live Sync for those files.
Videos I have created on my own and funny clips that I find online, I have in my videos folder. This folder is synced with Windows Live Sync. I keep a copy of the videos I’ve uploaded to Vimeo and YouTube in this folder.
Movies and TV Series
These are usually bigger files than what I keep in my videos folder. This folder is kept on my desktop computer only. Instead of copying these files everywhere, I use normal folder sharing and Windows Media Connect.
All our music is synced using Windows Live Sync. It’s a problem that the rating we give to our music is stored as metadata on the files, as me and my wife have different tastes in music. That’s a minor pain for the ability to have a simple structure for all our music. A lot of our music is ripped using a lossless compression, this takes up a lot of space (400-500MB pr. CD) so we’re considering changing this, possibly put a lossless copy only on the Windows Home Server. We have music content that has DRM license, both from iTunes, Zune and MSN Music. Biggest problem with DRM is that they require a license to be activated on a computer, and there is a limit on how many computers you can have activate. Which is problematic, considering we reinstall our computers multiple times a year.
Here is a description on our folder structures and how we keep our files organized. Keep in mind that currently, Live Mesh only supports 5GB of storage.
|C:\Users\Public\Music||Live Sync||~40GB||Our shared music and podcasts|
|C:\Users\Public\Photos||Live Sync||~30GB||Our shared photos|
|C:\Users\Public\Videos||Live Sync||~10GB||Our shared videos|
|C:\Users\Sondre\Documents||Live Mesh||~2GB||My personal documents|
|C:\Users\Katrine\Documents||Live Mesh||~500MB||Katrine’s personal documents|
|C:\Users\Sondre\Desktop\Mobile||Live Mesh||~100MB||Synced with my Windows Mobile decides. Includes backup of SMS messages, photos, software and more.|
Mapping Windows Folders
Depending on how you want to organize your files between the family members, you need to decide if you want to have a personal music, video and photo folder for everyone. We decided to go with a shared environment, to simplify everything.
Note: The following instructions is only useful if multiple individuals share a computer, if everyone have their own computer, the easiest way is use the normal folders.
This means moving files to the public profile (on Windows Vista and/or Windows 7). From Windows Vista, you have the ability to make special folders like Music, Photos, Videos. To change these folders, go to the home folder for your user by clicking the logon name in the Windows start menu. This should show you a list of special folders. Right-click on one of the folders and open properties. Select the Location tab and click the Move… button. Change the path from C:\User\User\Music to C:\User\Public\Music.
When you change this path, you might see two confirmation warnings, accept both of these to continue moving existing files to the public profile.
When you do this, the Pictures and Videos folders might appear as Public Pictures and Public Videos in your home folder. You can rename those names by going to C:\Users\Public using Windows Explorer.
Configuring Live Mesh Folders
There are two ways you can create a new Live Mesh folder. One is to right-click on any and choose Add folder to Live Mesh option, or you can create the folder first on the Live Mesh Web Desktop. When the folder is created on the Web Desktop, an shortcut should appear on your desktop. Double-click this icon to map the mesh folder to a local folder.
Configuring Live Sync Folders
If you are setting up a home network with multiple devices and users, my advice is to configure Windows Live Sync folders from a primary account and then share those folders with other users. Additionally you can only map the same folder once on the same computer, so if you use the C:\Users\Public profile for Music, Photos and Videos, you should map it with the user that is using the computer the most.
The first time you start Windows Live Sync, you will have to navigate to the following path and launch the application C:\Program Files\Windows Live\Sync\WindowsLiveSync.exe. When you run this on the first computer, it will tell you to run it on another one before you can start to synchronize files. When you load Windows Live Sync on a second computer, you might see a dialog like this:
My advice is to cancel this dialog and instead setup everything manually, it’s not very hard, let me explain how.
Launch the Windows Live Sync website and login with your Windows Live ID. When you are logged in, click the Create a personal folder.
Pick which computer you want to start from and you will be presented with a selection of folders on that computer. You can pick any folder on that computer.
When you’ve gone through these steps, you can select additional computer you want to map the new folder to. Go ahead and select your secondary computer.
If you want to share one of the new folders with your family members or friends, just go to the main page on Windows Live Sync and select one of the personal folders. At the bottom of the page, there will be a Invite new members link that allows you to enter the email address of those you want to share with.
That completes the configurations of folder sync and sharing!
Contact information is very important to us, it’s the basis of our professional, personal and social networks. Though it’s historically been hard to keep a well organized contacts book. I have previously used a service called Plaxo, but that required all my contacts to sign up for the same service.
Windows Live Contacts has grown to and improved to become a good alternative for contacts organization. It’s integrated with all the Live Software and Services, so it’s the perfect solution.
You can access the rich application to manage your Live Contacts from the Windows Live Mail. The trick to automatically receive updates is “Subscribe to Contact Updates”. You can select multiple contacts at the same time and enable this feature.
Another way to access and organize your contacts, is the website http://people.live.com/. From there, you have the option to export, import and clean up contacts. The clean up contacts will find duplicate contacts and allow you to easily merge them into one. This functionality is very useful when you’re merging phone contacts and Live contacts for the first time.
To be a good net-citizen, you should make sure your own Live Profile is always up-to-date, so your contacts will have the correct information at any time. Go to http://profile.live.com/ to edit your details.
Windows Live Photo Gallery (WLPG) is a very good application for organizing photos. It has good support for tagging and it can automatically recognize faces in your photos. When it recognizes as face, you can tag the person from your Windows Live Contacts. This makes it effortless to add personal tags to photos, without the tedious work of writing names, just point and click. If you have configured your home network with Windows Live Sync, you should now be able to enjoy your photos everywhere.
You can now use any of your computers to import photos to the collection! WLPG has very good support for importing photos from cameras and will handle everything automatically for you.
Tying it all together
I won’t go into details on how to connect everything together, if you own an Xbox 360, you’ve probably already figured out how to connect it with your computers. With the above configuration, you should be able to playback video, photos and music from any of the computers.
If you happen to own an Windows Mobile phone, you can install the Live Mesh Mobile, which gives you access to files and sync between the cloud and the phone. This is very useful for photos captured on the mobile phone and for copying new software to the phone. Read my blog post on how to bring photos with you on the run with Live Mesh Mobile.
All you need to do to get your contact list on the phone, is to logon with the Windows Live software that’s included in Windows Mobile. This will sync your email and contacts, and there is a mobile version of Windows Live Messenger.
Windows Live Essentials is a big suite of software and it’s improving on every release. Read more about it in my blog post on the Windows Live Essentials 2009 RC.
If you’ve gone through this walkthrough, you should by know realize that for all the software and services, you’ve only required to have a single identity. With your Windows Live ID; you can access and share all the information you need.
Please share your own stories on how to live an optimal digital lifestyle!