WFS: You can’t get there from here

 By Shamus Jun 16, 2006 7 comments

Cinneris is talking about getting files from his old Mac to his Windows machine:

[...] I had initially set up the Mac to allow Windows File Sharing through SMB, and connected to it using the Windows network browsing capabilities, but in the process of attempting to set up Wireless networking I managed to break this and haven’t been able to get it working since.

Someone trying to make the jump from Mac to PC might expect that this is an inter-OS problem, but it isn’t. Windows File Sharing has always been a flakey crapshoot.

Back in Win95 days, I had a 3 machine home network on a Hub, and I could never get more than two out of three computers talking. If I had computers A, B, and C, then C wouldn’t show up for the other two. If I got C working, then A would vanish. If I got A working, then the whole thing would go down and none of the computers could access the network. Then they could, but each one could only see itself. Then I’d mess with it, un-install and re-install WFS for everyone and find that the network was back up again! Except C couldn’t use the network.

Windows 98 took a small step forward in reliability. Not much, but when I was messing with C I no longer had to worry about screwing things up for A and B.

With XP, things are better than ever, which is to say: After about a decade Windows File Sharing works sort of well and most of the time will let me get files where I want them. I now have 5 machines and a router, and for the most part all the machines can communicate with each other. Once in a while B and E will suddenly stop talking to one another for no reason, but now I can get around this by using, say, D as a middleman.

Given how screwy WFS is after over ten years of development, I’m amazed that Macs can connect at all. I’m sure that for it to work the moon has to be in the right phase, your horroscope needs to be positive, and Steve Jobs needs to be in just the right mood, but that’s not much worse than the chances other Windows machines have at connecting.

7A few comments. Call it seven-ish.


  1. Cineris says:

    Wow, that is a great image, and definitely how I feel about it. I’ve been spoiled by working with Macs that I think maybe it’s just my relative inexperience with Windows machines … But it’s a relief knowing that it’s not just my klutzing with Windows that causes this sort of black magic.

  2. One of the things I’m having trouble with now is the way that certain file transfers between my machines pause for about 30 seconds before completing. I’m sure I know what it is: the sourcing machine is trying to find a Windows authentication server on my LAN, and after it times out then it permits the transfer to take place anyway. (Which, by the way, defeats the purpose of authentication servers…)

    I wish I knew what magical setting would tell both machines that “Windows authetication servers” are mythical beasts akin to dragons and unicorns and that they should live their lives as if they don’t exist.

  3. Pixy Misa says:

    Windows networking is just astoundingly screwed up. I particularly like the way a machine can’t even see itself unless it is plugged into the network.

    And then there’s wireless. Don’t talk to me about wireless.

    Everything it gets wrong was resolved on Unix twenty years ago. Microsoft even stole the BSD TCP stack, and they still can’t make it work.

  4. hank says:

    I guess I am odd man out, my network runs fine, wireless and wired plus VNC to wireless and wired at my mother’s, all computers running XP SP1.

    There were problems at first, but then I figured out the trick: have your router(s) assign static IP addresses over DHCP, and then totally ignore Windows conventions for network addressing. Instead of mapping \\SomeComputer\D, map \\192.168.1.102\D. Same goes for VNC connections and remote desktop connections. Skips right over Windows routing and authorization problems.

  5. Mark says:

    I recently had the joy of setting up a windows network over a wireless connection to my new linux box. It figures that when I was finally able to configure a linux box for wireless (something that I’ve found difficult in the past), I couldn’t access any of the other computers on the windows network. So I tried accessing my windows shared folders from the windows box… and I still got an error (in fact, I couldn’t even browse the network, which was really odd). Finally, I realized that my firewall (ZoneAlarm) was blocking access to everyone and everything (despite being set up to allow filesharing).

    Now the only problem I have is with transferring large amounts of data over the wireless connection. It usually loses the connection. Also, browsing in multiple windows seems to cause problems. I’m not sure if it’s a problem with the wireless, the windows network, or (perhaps least likely) the linux setup. I’d actually guess that it’s the router that’s the problem, but I haven’t had time to really diagnose.

  6. guy says:

    strange story: my home network had the exact same problem, which disappeared when we got Linux to work. Linux is not in charge of the network.

  7. Scampi says:

    And another old revisited thread: lately I needed to update my primary computer and therefore had to transfer massive amounts of data from my old XP-system to my win 7 laptop and on to the new win 7-desktop. Result: the connection from Win XP to Win 7 had never made any problems, was easy and reliable. My Win 7-systems needed expansive fussing and reconfigurations to be able to find each other in the same network, and now it only works by creating a public folder on one of the systems (the laptop) and “push” the data from the other system into that folder. The other way works as usual, but it’s unnecessarily complicated.
    The point: Microsoft doesn’t have a reliable network worked out in 2013, and I’m not sure they are really making any progress.

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