One icon on the default Windows NT 5.0 desktop has changed conspicuously since the release of Windows NT 4.0. Network Neighborhood, the stalwart network resources browser from previous versions of Windows, has been replaced in Windows NT 5.0 with "My Network Places," a cutesy name for a disarmingly different piece of functionality. One might assume that My Network Places is simply a renamed Network Neighborhood.

One would be wrong with such an assumption.


Enhanced network browsing
The My Network Places folder offers several enhancements over its replacement, incorporating the results of user studies that explored how people actually use network resources. My Network Place?s default view (picture) no longer displays all of the network resources (machines, shares, printers and the like) that exist in your workgroup or domain. Rather, the view offers the following icons:

  • Add Network Place -- Adds a new "Network Place" shortcut (see below).
  • Entire Network -- A holdover from Network Neighborhood; this allows you to browser other domains and workgroups on your network.
  • Computers Near Me -- This option will present you with a list of network resources in your domain or workgroup; this is similar to what you?d see in Network Neighborhood by default (picture).
My first reaction to Microsoft changing the way that network resources presented themselves was negative. However, the new My Network Places is a vast improvement over Network Neighborhood. Consider a user connected to a large domain or workgroup: It's confusing to be presented with a gigantic list of computers and other network resources. Most networked users need to access a small, finite group of resources (typically printers), so such a list is overkill for many reasons. More importantly, the new Add Network Place options allows you to create friendly names for those resources you do need to access frequently. Let's take a look.


Let's add some software
You can manually add a network place, with a friendly name of your choosing, by clicking the "Add Network Place" option in My Network Places. This is consistent with the user interface in other parts of Windows NT, such as the ?Make a New Network Connection? option in Networking Connections. The Add Network Place dialog (picture) allows you to create a shortcut to a network resource by typing in the UNC path to the resource or by browsing to its location (picture). Finally, you can give this resource a friendly name (picture) that will identify it in My Network Places (picture).

You can manually add as many resources as you?d like this way: Since this is a one-time process, it?s not much to ask of the user. On the other hand, Windows NT will also implicitly create shortcuts to resources you tend to visit often. This allows you to get to these resources without manually navigating to them or manually creating a shortcut. This is described in the next section.


Automatic network resource display
Let's say you access a particular folder on a network share constantly. The simple act of navigating to that share is tracked by Windows NT and, after a couple of a sessions of navigating manually to that location, a shortcut to that share will be placed automatically in the root level of My Network Places. The name of the shortcut will automatically default to [SHARE NAME] ON '[MACHINE NAME]' (picture), though you are free to change it, of course.

I'm not aware of the exact rules for the creation and deletion of automatic resource shortcuts, but it goes something like this: Once you accessed a resource a few times, a shortcut will be created. If you fail to access this shortcut over a longer period of time, it will be automatically deleted. It should be noted that any shortcuts you manually create will not be automatically deleted, however.


Conclusion

My Network Places is an excellent example of Microsoft taking a good idea from previous versions of Windows--in this case, Network Neighborhood--and improving it in Windows NT 5.0. The improvements to this feature are clearly based on feedback about the way that users actually work with network resources and, while the differences between Network Neighborhood and My Network Places may be disarming to the seasoned NT jockey, don't be put off by it. You'll quickly grow to love the way it simplifies--and improves--your ability to use and find network resources.