Ever hanker for the good old days? I'm talking about the networking days of 98 - of Windows 98 in particular.

Have you ever thought that networks seemed faster back then? If so, you're not wrong - some networking features haven't improved since, specifically the speed of network browsing.

It's sometimes noticeable in XP that when you click on the My Network Places icon to browse the network, nothing happens for a long time. There are a number of problems behind this and, of course, a similar number of solutions.

If you use My Network Places in the way it was intended, you could unwittingly be causing a slow down in your network performance. MNP was designed to hold shortcuts to all your favourite network shares. Unfortunately, if you have a lot of shortcuts, these generate a great deal of network traffic.

The Explorer.exe process that corresponds to this action may stop responding. Simply clearing your network share shortcuts in My Network Places may accelerate browsing. A hot-fix that cures this bug is available - but you have to ask Microsoft for it.

One solution is to stop using My Network Places and substitute Windows Explorer - right-click the Start button, select Explore and My Network Places appears in the left-hand pane. Double-click it to browse the network.

Curiously, XP keeps a copy of the contents of My Network Places in a hidden folder called NetHood. To access it, you need to create a shortcut to NetHood on the Windows desktop.

Right-click the desktop, choose New, Shortcut and type the path to the NetHood folder in the location box.

This typically takes the form of 'C:\Documents and Settings\[username]\NetHood'. Click Next, then choose Finish to complete the shortcut. Double-clicking this shortcut accesses your network resources.

But there's nothing to stop you accessing your network shares directly, providing you know the share name. To do this, click Start, Run, enter '\\computer' and click OK. This will open a networked computer and shows all its shared resources. To be more specific, type '\\computer\share'. This will open a shared disk or folder on a networked computer.

Another option is to create a shortcut to Explorer.exe and pass the UNC (universal naming convention) name of the network share, such as 'explorer /e, \\computer\share'.

Alternatively, rather than rely on UNC shares as above, you can always map a network share to a drive letter - assuming there are enough free drive letters for your shares. To map a drive, open My Computer and click Tools, Map Network Drive. Select the desired drive letter and either type in the UNC share, or browse to it and click Finish. If you click Reconnect at logon, the mapping will happen automatically every time Windows starts. The mapped drives will now be listed in My Computer.

Sometimes, when a workstation takes ages to connect to a server, it's having trouble finding it and has to resort to broadcasting via NBT/NetBios. It can speed things up to add the name of your server and its associated TCP/IP address into your hosts file. This is located in the 'c:\windows\system32\drivers\etc' folder. It's a plain text file called 'hosts', with no file extension. Open the hosts file using Notepad and add the line '10.0.0.2 server' where '10.0.0.2' is the server's IP address and 'server' is the hostname of the server. If you're running DHCP, make sure the DNS is configured correctly on the workstation and the server.

Relying on NetBios names can slow things down when browsing. Instead of using a UNC share, try using the shares TCP/IP address directly. For example, instead of using '\\computer\network share', try this: '\\192.168.0.1\share'.

And finally, it can speed things up to disable NetBios entirely - right-click My Network Places, Properties, and right-click on the Local Area Connection. Then choose Properties, select Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) and click on Properties. Click on Advanced and select the Wins tab. Choose Disable NetBios over TCP/IP. If you have a server with more than one NIC, try disabling NetBios on the other card as well.

Registry hacks
There are a number of tweaks you can make to the Registry to speed up your network browsing. Take great care when editing the Registry - always set a System Restore point before tinkering, so you can go back in time and put it back to the way it was.

If the My Network Places folder contains a shortcut to a network share, each refresh of the Explorer window will attempt to read icon information from every file across the network. This is a slow process. Simply deleting all the shortcuts from My Network Places will return the system response to normal.
Every time you open a file via a UNC name, XP adds a shortcut to the My Network Places folder. You can prevent the addition of shortcuts by setting 'HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\Explorer\NoRecentDocsNetHood' to 1.

It's recommended to increase the directory buffer size on the server from 14,000 to 65,000, particularly if you have shared folders containing hundreds of files and Windows NT 4.0 is involved. To do this, add the key 'HKLM\System\CurrentControlSet\Services\lanmanserver\parameters' to the Registry and add the value 'SizReqBuf=dword:0000ffff'.

If you attempt to browse a share list on a Windows 98-based PC from a Windows 2000- or XP-based PC, there can be a delay. However it occurs only when you browse directly to the PC name. If you browse to a share name there's no delay. The system is checking to see if scheduled tasks are enabled on the PC. You can disable this by deleting the key
'HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\RemoteComputer\NameSpace\{D6277990-4C6A-11CF-8D87-00AA0060F5BF}'.

Right-click the key and select Delete. If you have no use for viewing remote shared printers, consider deleting the printers key '{2227A280-3AEA-1069-A2DE-08002B30309D}'. You find this alongside the Scheduled Tasks key above.