Creating Turn-in and Hand-out network folders in Windows XP

imageJust so you know, I have the best animation teacher ever!  Early in the school year I set up the class computers so that students could turn in projects over the network instead of using a flash drive or CDs.  This is such a great solution because it just requires one setup at the beginning of the year, and for the rest of the year the class can enjoy the convenience of turning in project with a simple click-and-drag of the proper files.  The teacher can also make useful files available to students in a similar fashion.

This isn’t magic!  Windows has the ability to share folders on one computer to anyone on the network.  In this case, it makes the most sense for the computer sharing those folders is the teacher’s computer.  Sharing folders does not imply exposing the entire contents of the computer to the public.  You get to choose what folders you want to share, and who gets to access them.

Like I said earlier in this post, the process must be done at the beginning of every year at my high school, since the school’s IT staff wipes out the computers ever Summer and does upgrades.  That’s the point of this post.  I’m graduating this year, so my animation teacher asked me to make this tutorial for her, and anyone else at my high school to use.  That said, these instructions are also very applicable to teachers elsewhere.  As long as the computers run Windows XP, the instructions should be valid.

These instructions should be very thorough and self explanatory, and it is highly unlikely that someone could misinterpret them to do something to make his computer explode.  Even so, read all the way through the instructions before acting.  If you feel apprehensive then there is likely a tech-savvy guy (or gal!) available who needs to earn some service hours.

This tutorial is broken up into sections.  If all of this is a bit much for you, then each section marks a good place to take a break.

Picking a place on the computer to store all of the files

The first thing you need to do is find a place to store the turn-in and hand-out folders on your computer.  You need to choose a drive that is not likely to be overwritten.  On the computer I used there are three local hard drives.  The first is the C drive, which is where the operating system is kept.  I don’t want to use this one because I know that the administrators clear that drive from time to time for upgrades and such.  It would be acceptable if it were the only hard drive available, but the other ones offer me better choices.  The scratch disk seems OK, but it’s really just for temporary files.  The “Data” drive makes perfect sense!  This should give you some sense of how to evaluate the situation and pick the right  hard drive to store the files on.  There really is no wrong answer, but there sure are better ones.
my computer

Next, just for organizational sake, make a folder called “Network Shares”.  This folder will be where the “Turn In” and “Handouts” folders live.  (Note how the location of the folder who’s contents are currently being viewed is shown in the address bar.)
network shares folder

Creating the Handouts folder

First I’ll show how to set up the handouts folder because it’s the simpler to set up of the two.  The first step if to create a folder called “Handouts”  There’s no computer voodoo in the name; you can pick a different one if you want.

After the folder is made, right-click on it and click “Properties”.
click properties

The properties window will open.  Click on the “Sharing” tab.
properties window

On the “Sharing” tab, click the “Share this folder” radio button.
sharing tab

Click on the permissions button.
click permissions

A new window will open. Check the box that corresponds to allowing change for everyone.
check allow

This means that if someone has the ability to write or modify files on the physical computer itself then they will have the ability to do the same over the network from another computer.  In the case of the handouts folder that means you can submit files to it from any computer on the network.  This step will later be done for the turn-in folder as well, but the permissions will be broadened so that anyone on the computer can write files to the turn-in folder, and thus will be able to submit files to the turn-in folder from any computer on the network.  If this paragraph does make sense, then don’t worry about it.  I’m just trying to add some reasoning behind all of these steps.

Click OK to close the window.
click ok

Now we’re going to set who is allowed to add files to the Handouts folder and who is allowed to read the files.  To do this, click the “Security” tab.
click security tab

You will be presented with something that looks like the picture below.  You can see how the settings at the bottom of the window correspond to the selected user or group on the top.  We want to make sure that everyone is allowed to view the files in this folder, so we’ll have to change the settings for the (you guessed it) “Everyone” group. It’s not already in the list, so I’m going to add it.  If you already see an item called “Everyone” than you can skip the next few steps, which are for adding that item.

Click “Add…”  (Note that I blurred my name out in the picture.)
security tab

A new window will open.  Here is where you can type in user names and groups.  Type “everyone”.
type everyone

Click “Check Names”.
click check names

Note how “everyone” changes to “Everyone“.  click OK.
click ok

Now the “Everyone” group is added to the list.  It turns out that the default settings work just fine.  We only want everyone to access files, but not modify.  Note how we don’t want to check “deny” for “write”, because that will deny writing new files to everyone, which includes you!  Users only get the privilege if it is specifically given, so leaving “Allow” unchecked for “Write” is sufficient for preventing students from writing their own files to the handouts folder.  Make sure that the settings for “Everyone” are the same as shown here and click OK.
edit permissions for everyone

Click OK to close the Properties window, and you will be brought back to the Explorer window with your newly-created, network-accessible “Handouts” folder.  Notice how now there is a hand superimposed on the folder icon showing that the folder is shared over the network.
handouts done

Now make sure that you can write files to the handouts folder.  If you can than you’re done!  If you can’t then go back to the “security” tab shown above (right-click on the handouts folder and click properties) and add your username to the list and give yourself writing privileges.  If you still don’t have writing privileges than look at the other user/group settings and look for “deny” boxes that could be preventing you from writing files.  I mention all of this because they are possible things that could go wrong, depending on how the computers were set up originally.  Everything will probably work just fine.

Creating the Turn In Folder

Whew!  Thankfully creating the turn in folder is almost exactly the same as creating the handouts folder.  One only difference is that you need to allow the “Everyone” group to write files.  This will allow the students to add their files to the turn in folder, but not make any modifications (to their files or others).

Do the whole “handout folder” creation process, but obviously name the folder something like “turn in”.  Do everything up until the last few “Click OK”s.  There is one last step you need to do for the turn in folder.  This picture shows the point at which you should stop following the “Handouts folder” directions.
where to stop handouts instructions for turn in folder

Now simply check the check box that corresponds to “Allow Everyone to Write”. To the computer that is the only difference between a turn-in and handouts folder.
allow write access

Finally, click “OK” and you will be brought back to the Explorer window with your newly-created “Turn-In” folder.
both folders done

Making the folders easily accessible to others

Now you have nice, shared folders that anyone can access, that is if they can find them.  My highschool has a few thousand computers on the same network, so finding the teacher’s computer among all the others could be quite difficult.  The best solution for ensuring that the students have easy access to the shared folders is to just create a shortcut to the shares on everyone’s desktop.  This prevents the confusion that could surround having them manually type in the proper network location, which is likely just a bunch of numbers and letters.

You will need to find the name of the computer that is hosting the shared folders, which is how the computer is identified on the local network.  To do that, right-click on “My Computer”, which is located on the desktop and/or the start menu.  (It is hard to give one definite place where “My Computer” will appear, since the computer administrators who set up the computers cannot agree one standard way to configure the computers.)  At any rate, find My Computer and right-click on it.  In the context menu that comes up, click “Properties”.
my computer properties from the start menu
my computer properties from the desktop

The System Properties window will open. Click on the “Computer Name” tab.
system properties window

The “Computer Name” tab gives you all of the information you need.  In this case the computer’s name is “”.  Copy the computer’s full name to the clipboard.  (You can select the text with the mouse just as if the text were in a word professing program.)
computer name tab

Now you are going to find the computer on the network.  Open an explorer window.
explorer window

Type “downhill slashes” into the address bar, and then paste in the full computer name.  In this case I would type in “\\”.
paste in url

Click “Go” or press enter, and you will see your computer’s network shares.
view network share

This is good!  If you see both shared folders, then you probably did all of the other previous steps correctly.  If you don’t see both folders then you should go back and see what went wrong.

If you don’t want to do anything else, you can just write down that address on the blackboard and call it done.  Taking the time to create shortcuts to that network location could save a lot of time and headaches down the road, though.

Remember that the slashes go like this: “\\” and not this “//”.  Yes, there is a difference.  (One way works and the other doesn’t!)  Also note that there isn’t any “http” or “www” nonsense.

The next step is to put a shortcut to this network location onto everyone’s desktop.  This is easy to do, but time consuming.  The first thing to do is create a shortcut to the network location.  Click and drag the icon in the address bar to the desktop.  This creates a link to that location and puts it on the desktop.
create shortcut to network share

Now you have a shortcut the the network shares, but it may a weird or nonsensical name.  Rename it to something that makes more sense, like “Class Files”.
rename shortcut

Now you have a shortcut to the network shares, but it doesn’t do the class any good for you to have it on your Desktop!  The next step on everyone else’s Desktop.  This can be a bit tricky, though.

There are two folders that feed into what shows up on the Desktop.  One of the folders is specific to what shows up on the desktop for the individual user, and there is another folder for files that appear on everyone’s desktop.  This dual-folder system is why program links can appear on eveyrone’s desktop the first time they log in, but they can still put files on on their desktops and not have them show up when someone else logs in.  You want to put the “Class Files” shortcut in the folder that contributes to everyone’s desktop.  I will refer to this folder as the “all useres desktop folder”.

Open Explorer and go to “C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Desktop”
all users desktop

The folder may or may not have anything in it, but whatever files you put in it will show up on everyone’s desktop who logs in to that computer.

Drag the icon in the address bar onto the Desktop to create a link to the “all users desktop folder”. This will save a lot of time later on when locating the “all users desktop folder” on the other computers, since the “all users desktop folder” is in the same location on every computer.
both shortcuts

Now you have to shortcuts on your Desktop. Move them to some sort of portable storage device.  I recommend a flash drive, but a diskette, CD, or portable hard drive would work too.
shortcuts on a flash drive

Remove the flash drive from your computer.

Perform the following tasks at every student computer:

  1. log in (if a student is already logged in than you may try working from his account, but if you get an “access denied message when doing the following steps, then you will in fact have to log in to your account.)
  2. Plug the flash drive (or whatever you used to store the shortcuts) into the computer.
  3. Open the flash drive so that you can see those two shortcuts
  4. Drag the “Class Files” link into the “Shortcut to Desktop” link.  This will put a copy of the “Class Files” link onto the “all users Desktop”.

That last step is where the final magic happens.  If you were to simply drag the “Class Files” link onto the regular Desktop, then the link would not appear for other users who use that computer.  This way the link shows up for everyone who uses that computer.

That’s it!  You should test to make sure everything works, which would include asking a student to try to create a file in the “handouts” folder from his computer, which he shouldn’t be able to do.  Testing would also include asking a student to create a file in the “turn in” folder, which he should be able to do, and asking him to delete a file that someone else created, which he shouldn’t be able to do.

If you have any questions or need me to clarify a part of the tutorial, feel free to leave a comment below.

DIY Wired Network

My Xbox had a wireless connection to the home network through a wireless network bridge for a while, but somehow the connection was just lacking, especially when I used the thing as an extender for Windows Media Center.  I needed to get a direct connection between my Xbox in the basement  and the home router in the family room, but I wasn’t about to pay someone to install cables in the wall for me.  The family room is right above the TV room in the basement, so I figured it would be pretty easy to rig something up.  First I thought I could just follow the TV cables around, because I when I unscrewed a receptacle in my room, it looked like empty space in the wall.

It must have been the only one in the house like that.  An unused cable in the basement was pretty tightly-packed.

There was also a receptacle in the family room that had three cables in it, likely for some old cable system.  There was just no working with it.  The two black cables seemed to go up, while the only cable going down was white.

Enter a new idea!  We have speakers in the family room that are fed from a stereo in the basement.  Their cables go through holes where the wall and floor meet (hidden by the baseboards), into the ceiling of the basement, and on top of the ceiling tiles of the basement to the stereo.

I knew what to do.

Yeah, well my mom drilled the hole, but I could have done it myself! :-P

So then I fed the cable through the hole . . .

. . . and then removed some ceiling tiles in the basement and fearlessly dug around for it blindly in the insulation in the top of the basement wall.

Remember the unused black cable I was talking about?  It was at this point that my dad and I discovered that we could find it at the top of the ceiling.  The plan was to attach a string to the end of the black cable where it comes out the wall, pull it out from the top of the ceiling, and then attach the Ethernet cable to the string at the top of the wall and pull the string out from the wall until the Ethernet cable popped through.  Great plan, except that the string came undone halfway through.  After a good 30 minutes of fussing around, trying to make the cable go through the insulation (make the sharp turns that the old cable took down to the hole) we decided on another solution.

I routed the cable along the top of the wall, which would be out of sight when the ceiling tiles were put back into place.

I brought it down right above the TV.

It wasn’t the best solution, but it worked!  I hooked the cable up to an old 4-port network hub, and brought one cable to the Xbox, and another one to my dad’s computer, so that he could use a wired connection instead of wireless.

Even though my desktop computer’s connection to the network is still wireless, since I made the one segment of the data trail for Media Center wired, the performance of the Xbox as an extender for Windows Media Center has increased noticeably.

This is me excited. :-)