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Three points on ... Windows networking

Using your computer to network through the surgery has multiple benefits. Dr Patrick Halls explains.

1. Easy access and safer back-up of documents

Linking computers together via Windows in the practice allows you to share documents with others. This is quicker than by email because there is no need to log on to other applications. It is as quick to open a file on someone else's PC as it is on your own.

It can be used for office stationery, and by putting the standard forms on one computer, any networked computer can be used to print out a form, just by accessing it via the network. If you have written a practice protocol on your PC, you can send it to the secretary to print out and distribute.

Most files or pictures can be shared this way. You can use the network to back up important files by placing copies on other PCs which is more convenient than floppy disks or CD-ROMs that are easy to mislay. We do this with our insurance form database. The most common cause of a computer failure is the hard drive crashing and backing up via the network protects you against this.

2. Setting up shared folders

To create a folder you want to share on a PC, using Windows 2000 which most of us have, right click with the mouse on the folder in Windows Explorer and go to the sharing option on the menu.

Unless you are a more advanced user, it is simpler to allow full sharing, but be careful what you share. A reply to a complaint letter is not suitable.

The folders icon in Explorer will then change from the yellow box to one with a blue hand underneath the box.

3. Accessing via the network

To access the shared folder from another computer, click on the network places icon on your desktop and then on the entire network icon. Depending on your system set-up, there may be further icons to click on until you get to Windows network directory icon. You will then see all the logged-in computers. Click on the computer name you want and access the shared folders with their files. If you want a shortcut to the folder or to a file, you can create it and put it on your own PC's desktop.

If you do not know the name of your own PC or the computer where the folder is, but you know where it is in the building, physically go to the computer itself, go to the control panel, then to the system icon and the computer name tab to find the name.

- Dr Halls is a GP in Derbyshire.

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