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I have a home network consisting of a few physical machines (all windows XP,7) and recently I have built an esxi box for creating virtual machines.

Thus far I have been enabling file sharing to specific folders by creating the same user account on each pc that I want to share or access files on, it's getting to the point where I would like to centralise these accounts in one spot.

What is a simple option that would allow me to centralise my windows logins, I did try to setup AD once but I'm not very experienced with it and got lost fairly quickly, I'm primarily a developer so haven't had much experience with the windows server OSs (not afraid to try though provided I can find some good resources).

I'm not too bothered about having roaming profiles etc, at a minimum I would like to just centralise this account details and that would be great, if I could maybe get the pcs to run logon scripts to map drives that would be good to but not 100% necessary.

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4 Answers 4

As far as I know, AD is the easiest way to do this. Install Windows Server and configure AD on it. Create AD users on the server (be sure you're not creating local users; these won't help). Next, join your PCs to the domain and that's it -- you should now have centralized accounts that you can use to log in from anywhere in your network.

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The Active Directory part works only if you have Windows Professional editions. For all editions, and to save some money, get Windows Home Server. It syncs your passwords across the computers, gives you shared folders, monitors backups, and much more

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Apart from the solution of installing a domain server to sync user accounts, which could be costly, you also asked about establishing scripts to map network drives at logon.

I remark that if network drives are mapped as persistent, they should be available permanently, whenever the mapped computer is turned on.

I also remark that user accounts do not need to be enabled on each and every computer : It is enough to give the Guest account access to the shared folder. Basically, any unauthenticated user always uses the Guest permissions. (It is also useful to know that under 7, Guest is not part of the Everyone group.)

One can get into all kinds of troubles by networking XP and 7, who do not always play well together, so it is better to keep everything dead simple.

A good article that explains all the concepts is File Sharing Under Windows XP / Vista.
The Guest Authentication section in it should be useful.

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Windows Small Bussiness Server offers some assistants for managing Active Directory, at least in the "Essentials" Edition. I was told it even doesn't use the words "Active Directory" and "Domain" in the dashboard while an AD is running in background.

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