Whither the Network list of computers in Windows Explorer - Windows 10 today and beyond?

OK, so NetBIOS is "going away".....  What does that really mean?  I ask this in the context of the Network display in Windows 10 Windows Explorer.
Lately, the Network display list has been getting flaky.  It's time to illuminate why that is and what to expect in the near future.  Actually, what to expect today.
Now, I am well-experienced with peer-to-peer networks - so that's my focus here.

Regarding the Network list of computers:
I know well the context of NetBIOS and the Master Browser and the historical list of computers in the Network display.
What I don't know is what comes next?
What I don't know is what to expect in the near term with networks of Windows 10 computers.

What I do know is that there has been "flakiness" of the list that's displayed.
What I do know is that lists have changed from 100% NetBIOS to mixed NetBIOS and WSD and now to 100% WSD as the Discovery Method.

And, in the process, the Network list of computers has become flaky.
Some lists are short.
Not all lists, from computer to computer, are the same.
Some lists are long and have but one computer missing (seems like always the same one!).

I have been told numerous times by Experts that NetBIOS "is going away" by 2020. I'm not sure what ALL that means.
Windows 10 continues to display a "NETWORK" list in Windows Explorer doesn't it?
If you elect to show "Discovery Method" as a column in the Network list display, then you will see either NetBIOS or WSD for each computer listed.
(You don't see anything for computers that aren't listed.  :-)  

Lately, I'm seeing lists of all Windows 10 Pro machines with 100% WSD as the Discovery Method.
Yesterday I saw a list with more NetBIOS than WSD by far (about 10 computers in a peer-to-peer network) and there are interaction troubles in that network.

Something is clearly going on but I've not read anything to really explain it.   Perhaps there are some good references?
For example:
"If NetBIOS is going away then is that simply a protocol change in favor of WSD?"
"If NetBIOS is going away and WSD is taking its place (in some sense) then does that mean that the Network list of computers is ALSO going away? Or not?"

Some clarity would really help.

There is a counter-argument:
"You don't really need the Network list"
I say: "BS" because there has always been no better, simple, way to know if the network is "whole".
Sure, I can use NetScanner or some such tool but then I'm an IT guy. What about a more "normal user"?
BTW, the "you don't need the list" argument is colored by the notion that "not all computers are sharing files NOR SHOULD THEY BE". So why does one need to see them on a list?
It occurs to me that this could well be true - but it isn't a complete picture.

Once more: some clarity would really help.
I am left with a vague allusion to the idea that the list is just going away. But the explanations aren't well articulated or justified. In the mean time, there are lots of users who rely on the list for various reasons that really should not be challenged as "old fashioned" should they?  If it's useful then it's legit to ask about it.
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Fred MarshallPrincipalAsked:
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Hi Fred,

I can't answer where Microsoft are going with this, but just to add to what you have set out above, in addition to NetBIOS and WSD (Web Service Discovery), you may also see SSDP (Simple Service Discovery Protocol).

If I were to guess, it would be that Microsoft intend to deprecate the network list from File Explorer, and perhaps move it somewhere more 'out of the way', or maybe even replace it with a built-in application akin to NetScanner.

Cliff GaliherCommented:
Well, you crammed a lot of exposition into that box, but didn't actually ask much. And you also posed your own counter-argument and then shot it down...lending to the impression that you've already formed your opinion and maybe aren't as open minded to a discussion as you ask. I don't know who will commit a lot of time to answering in that context.  I'll commit only a little.

What is going on with the network browser list? Microsoft hasn't officially said, but there are clear tea leaves to be read.  It is effectively dead and could be officially deprecated at any time. Don't rely on it.

What comes next?  Managed identity is the core of windows. And with managed identity comes managed resources.  Windows 10 has built in support for AD, Azure AD, and "Microsoft Accounts" for consumer purposes.  That's what's next.

I say: "BS" because there has always been no better, simple, way to know if the network is "whole".

The network list was *NEVER* about seeing the network "as a whole."  It was about accessing *RESOURCES* on the network.  Even when WfW 3.11 was the only game in town (pre-domain days), Microsoft had guidance on turning on and off the master browser components to improve network performance.  IF you used it as a "complete" view of the network, you were always using it wrong.

It occurs to me that this could well be true - but it isn't a complete picture.

Nope, It isn't.  And the browser list *NEVER WAS* a complete picture.  It was a throwback to Microsoft's (successful) attempt to usurp Novell's dominance in the small/mid business space.  It served a migratory purpose but Novell Netware is gone, and windows has evolved much better technologies for accessing resources.

As for the vague allusions, nothing too vague about it.  The network list was built on old technology: NetBIOS and SMB1.  SMB1 is also, undeniably, going away and *HAS* been officially deprecated.  And you can find as much in official Microsoft documents about disabling SMB1, where it says it is needed for legacy apps that still "require" browsing "network neighborhood."  Yes, they are treating it as legacy.

WSD will be around for the foreseeable future, but in that regard, WSD is a more robust protocol and is about advertising services, not just a random device name.  Non-computer entities use WSD too. Most network printer discovery...WSD.  Network scanners, WSD. Non-computer media servers...WSD.  

But the idea there is that there will be applications that can speak WSD and will handle resource discovery for you.  Fire up windows settings and hit "add a network printer" and WSD goes out and finds printers.  You don't get media devices.  Just printers.

Fire up a scanner app and it can query via WSD and find just scanners.

Fire up a music app and it can find media devices, or speakers, or whatever.

There isn't a monolithic "network" list in such a scenario.  Nor would such a list be useful when it'd be a jumble of devices that the Windows Explorer app doesn't know how to deal with...since few if any will speak SMB1 in the near future.  And *files* is all Explorer is focused on.


To use an analogy, if you live in a small town where all businesses were built in Main St, you can just drive down Main St until you find the business you need. Chances are the town has one hardware store. One small café. Maybe a bank.  That's your network list.

Now move to Seattle.  You can't possibly find every café in seattle by driving around.  Or even browsing the white pages.  Too much noise.  It is so inefficient that you simply wouldn't do so.  You use the yellow pages (or the digital equivalent with a smartphone.)

Yes, the white pages still exists for finding individuals.  And IP scanners still exist for crawling a network to find devices.  But those are edge cases. There are better indexes that are more focused on getting people what they need (I need a hardware store...I need a network printer)...and the network list simply does not, and cannot, keep up with the modern network and the Internet of Things phenomenon.

Clear things up?
Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
Anna bell:  What was it that you tried?

Cliff Galiher:  That's a pretty good description!  The analogy works for me!  
(Yes, I did shoot down the counter-argument.  That was the point).

Part of the dichotomy perhaps is that the Seattle analogy is about huge networks.  My focus is on smaller networks.
Now, I do know that more centrally-managed networks and the people that tend to them have a particular focus.  
But there are a huge number of small businesses with 5-20 computers on their networks that "just grew".  While it may be nice to provide "better" capabilities for the big glass house, it's not nice to pull the rug out from under those small businesses.

As for the vague allusions, nothing too vague about it.  The network list was built on old technology: NetBIOS and SMB1.  SMB1 is also, undeniably, going away and *HAS* been officially deprecated.  And you can find as much in official Microsoft documents about disabling SMB1, where it says it is needed for legacy apps that still "require" browsing "network neighborhood."  Yes, they are treating it as legacy.

Your argument here (in my context) is that the small business owners should know about SMB1 and all the implications of that.
They don't.  The implications are vague to them.  And, above the tech speak, the implications are vague to me too - as you have admitted.  We don't know what Microsoft will do next.

These businesses don't have an "IT Department" much less an "IT Person" on staff.  And, it's not likely that they will.

What they have are part-time "on call" contractors who come in to fix things - and sometimes to arrange things.
And, if one of the owners is capable and intelligent, they know that they can buy and install things on their own - and do.  Maybe they get free help from their business application software provider.  Maybe they get some free help from their ISP.  
They only call for help when they're stymied.

I'm sorry if my question or questions were unclear.  Let me try this again:

Given that small businesses have been using the Network list "forever" and have built their understanding and practices around it:
What is there for small businesses that will give information and guidance for what they should do NOW?
I'm not looking for just another opinion on this, I'm looking for references / links.
And, I'd be very interested in some good ideas.
I'm not looking for flip answers that say they should tear up their networks and start over with a Server.  That's not practical for them.  
So, if I appear to have a pre-conceived notion, I guess that's it.  I'm still open to real answers.

At a more practical level, not only has the Network list become flaky but businesses are seeing network printing breaking.  When I've looked into the failures, the "broken" printers were most often using WSD "ports".  Switching to TCP/IP always fixes things.  What's frustrating about this is that I've not heard or seen any guidance regarding how to embrace WSD for printers reliably and in what network architecture conditions.  So, naturally, one does what "just works".  Perhaps this is related and perhaps not.  I don't mean to rant or appear to be narrow-minded, I'm truly looking for solutions.
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Cliff GaliherCommented:
To answer your questions, I have to address some assumptions you've made that I don't agree with:

"While it may be nice to provide "better" capabilities for the big glass house, it's not nice to pull the rug out from under those small businesses."

The rug is not being "pulled out" from under them.  Windows 95 is not supported.  Windows XP is not supported.  These may not have been "known" changes to the average Joe, much like SMB1, but they *WERE* known to I.T. Pros.  To be blunt, if this pulls the rug out from anybody, they deserve it because they were too narrowly focused and the technology signals were all around them.

"These businesses don't have an "IT Department" much less an "IT Person" on staff.  And, it's not likely that they will."

That is where *I* will call B.S.   When I started my consulting business many years ago, I bought many "how to start a business" books.  One thing they all had in common?  Chapter 1 in *EVERY* book (not an exaggeration) had:

1) Meet with an accountant and get them on retainer.
2) Meet with a lawyer and get them on retainer.

It was a bad idea then to wait until you were sued or had an issue to find a lawyer.  And it was a *terrible* idea to use quickbooks and manually do your own taxes.  You met with professionals and got them on board so they knew the basics of your business.  Since then, having I.T. has been added to most of those chapter 1 lists in new editions.

You don't need an I.T. department. But if you are a business owner who just does your own I.T. work and then get bit, I have *ZERO* sympathy.  I know business owners that only call an accountant or lawyer when they are "stymied" as well....and they pay through the nose for it because they didn't build a relationship ahead of time.  They *can* do that here too. When SMB1 dies and takes old functionality with it and a business is "surprised" and stuff breaks, they can reach out because they are stymied and pay a contractor the $250/hr rate beacuse they chose to go it alone before. That's just the harsh reality.

Or they get an I.T. firm "on retainer" that can prep for this. That keeps up to date on trends, can make sure computers get patched for WannaCry, Petya, Meltdown, Spectre, or the next big security risk.  That can at least call the owner once a month and provide guidance for a nominal fee.   If the owner doesn't want to pay $50/month for a phone call, they deserve every bit of pain they get.

"What is there for small businesses that will give information and guidance for what they should do NOW?
I'm not looking for just another opinion on this, I'm looking for references / links."

You'll only get opinions.  Sorry.  There is no "right" answer here.   I have consulted with and helped 5-person shops do full cloud deployments where "network" lists aren't needed.  They need links to Freshbooks, QuickBooks Online, Google Suite, and maybe a few sundry things.  Plop an HP printer on there (which the system settings app will discover via WDS without ever needing the "network" list) and they are done.

I've built businesses completely around Microsoft office 365, Dynamics, and Azure AD.

I've built hybrid deployments.

And SBS 4.5 was the "small business server" targeting SMALL BUSINESSES since the 1990s.  And was a DOMAIN play...not relying on workgroups.   While SBS is dead, Server 2016 (optionally with Essentials) is still a perfectly valid small business play for businesses that need on-premises resources, set up as a domain instead of a workgroup.  This isn't "new" stuff.  This isn't Microsoft suddenly pivoting.  These have been small business solutions for YEARS.

You don't want the " tear up their networks and start over with a Server" answer.  But frankly, that's basically saying "I know the right answer, but don't like it."   Here is the reality:

1) If someone built a business around workgroup functionality anytime after 2010, they did so without any research or input from an expert and built a business around technology *already* slated to die.  It'd be the equivalent of starting a new stagecoach company in 1920 after seeing that Henry Ford's automobile was not going away and was guaranteed to be the future.

2) If someone built a workgroup network in the 1990s, they got a helluva useful life from that investment.  You move forward.  You don't still run windows 95. You don't still run Lotus 1-2-3 on a 486.  You invest in moving on.  Same with your network. Migration plans should have started YEARS ago.  It doesn't have to be big-bang.  But yes, moving to the cloud or to a domain should already be planned. and that means "a server" (in the case of a domain.)

If you want to stick to the "it's not practical for them" argument, you have to back that up. Because I backed up my position on why it *is* practical with historical evidence.  The "it just is" argument gets about as much sympathy from me as the business that chose to go it alone for I.T.

As for printers, WSD will have problems in a couple of circumstances, all of which are fixable:

1) A bad network.  Noisy networks are notorious for this.  A good network with good switches and well behaved machines (non-admin privileges on workstations, etc) will cure MOST of the things that break WSD.

2) Up to date drivers.  FROM THE MANUFACTURER.  (this also presumes windows 10.  Don't try to make that printer work on Vista.)

3) Printers that are still supported.  Trying to make that LaserJet 6P with a JetDirect network card that "technically" supported the first versoin of WSD, but hasn't been updated in 12 years, is not a good candidate.  Yes, manually deploying TCP/IP settings is better in that case.  Or...given the cost of labor to do so....replace the printer!

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Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
Cliff Galiher:  It's clear that we have opinions on this subject.  The thing is that I don't disagree with your logic or your examples.  But the marketplace of small business owners that surround me here won't buy it without some serious butt kicking.  That's not *my* position, it's my experience with them.  You could suggest that I'm seeing something that's not real or valid - but what I see or extract from the marketplace is what it is.

But, in a sense, that's what I was asking for with this question.  A solution.  Now, I admit I was looking for a near-term technical solution or at least a better exposition for the non-technical folks.  You get that.  So I guess I could expand the search and start looking for *really good sales pitches*.

You don't want the " tear up their networks and start over with a Server" answer.  But frankly, that's basically saying "I know the right answer, but don't like it."  
It's much more that WE know the right answer and THEY don't like it.  So, the *really good sales pitch*...  

Many of these customers are small professional offices: physicians, lawyers, optometrists, dentists but in a rural environment with networks that have evolved so that Windows 10 Pro is the norm but there remain some Windows 7 Pro systems mixed in.  Some know enough "to be dangerous".  That's true.  The implication of what you say is that they should be educated and to budget for a more robust IT support.  The reality is that many of them exist from day-to-day and get by with what they can get by with.  There is a very small minority that behaves any differently.  

So, when you say:
If you are a business owner who just does your own I.T. work and then get bit, I have *ZERO* sympathy.
I don't know what your sympathy is worth to them.  Why not carry that attitude to the next step and just refuse to help them?  As the song goes: "these shoes are made for walkin'".  

I do understand that we can try to convince our customers to take the next step in technology.  
But we aren't the decision-makers.

Thanks for the suggestions re:  printers and WSD.
First off, I'm working with solid networks on the physical side.  Often not pretty but adequately built.  So I doubt that the network is the problem.
I actually believe that we (in the small business, peer-to-peer network world) have been handed a set of problems that aren't always evident to others.  Here's my belief:
- IPv6 and whatever is rolled up with it did cause problems in internal networks.  You once criticized that we had turned it off.  Well, we turned it off to fix problems.  I'm thinking that today we are in a better position to turn it back on.  It's only a practical matter of what works best.  Your suggestion made me think about it sooner.  I had not fully appreciated that there was more than an addressing method rolled up in it.
- WSD for printers has been a problem in these networks as well.  We don't use it in favor of TCP/IP in order to fix problems.  Recall that these offices aren't *my* domain.  I don't have carte blanche to change them overnight.  I fixed a "new" printer problem just a couple of days ago this way in a network that had been working fine.  Oh?  We don't imagine that Windows updates had a role in this do we?
- WSD and IPv6 combined may help solve some other network strangenesses.  I'm looking forward to that.
- "Replace the printer" (and the cost involved) is an interesting thought that makes sense if you know a good deal about what the situation is.  It guarantees nothing of course.  These networks grow and evolve on their own.  Printer selection is done by the owners or employees with no real IT involvement.

It may sound like I'm arguing with you.  I'm not.  I'm simply trying to build some appreciation for a "real world" that some of us live in.
This question was, and is, about working in that world in a more effective way.  
Your ideas are appreciated!
Cliff GaliherCommented:
A few minor points so you realize where I'm coming from.

I live and work in Montana.  You want rural, we are it.  Even Alaska has bigger cities (Anchorage.)  The only state we beat for rural living is Wyoming.

Lawyers as a generalization are the WORST clients for being the cheapest (despite charging their own clients the most) and yet I still get them moving.

One tactic you may have "accidentally" hit on is the willingness to "fire" a client.  That's a last resort, but it *is* an important thing you need to be willing to do.

If one or two clients is fighting you on maintaining or upgrading your client then maybe it is the client. If most of them are, then it is you not pushing or convincing them enough.

"Selling" them on this isn't a pitch, You want a good sales pitch, I don't have one.  For me it is about trust.  They know that they shouldn't be their own dentist with a mirror. Lawyers know that representing themselves is foolish.  Psychologists don't self analyze. They see another therapist to get their own objectivity.  When you have a rapport with a client, it is often just a matter of having that frank and honest discussion and pointing out that they'd never recommend cheapskating on legal advice, or dentistry, or whatever.  That their service has value.  And you are a professional and YOUR service has value. And they either trust your opinion or they don't...and they came to you because "going it alone" wasn't working.  At least ONE thing went wrong that made them reach out.

If that doesn't win them over, you don't threaten to leave.  You leave.  Or they will inevitably argue over the bill (or do so passive-aggressively and you find yourself doing "un-timed work" to keep the bill lower.)  It is human nature. If you aren't assertive, people inherently take advantage.  You either stand up, or you leave.  Even the smallest town, with only one lawyer (a divorce attorney most likely) has him making so much money in billable hours that your cost is a drop in the bucket. Don't *LET* them play the "we can't afford it" card.  They play it because you've let them.  I guarantee you that if the tables were turned and you were getting a divorce, s/he would charge you for every MINUTE he spent negotiating a settlement.

90% of being successful as an I.T consultant is your own mental approach to dealing with clients.  You can do so without being a dick, but don't approach it like "I need this client to eat tomorrow."  Approach it as "this client needs me to be in court tomorrow."  You have MUCH more sway and bargaining power than you realize.

I've fired a few clients in my life, and don't regret a single one of them.  Because, as I said, they were happy to let me work, and absolutely painful to get paid. The people that are truly too cheap to upgrade are also too cheap to pay you for your time.  And sadly getting them to pay up *isn't* billable (beyond any late fees you got in writing ahead of time.)  Better to cull them, and the remaining clients get better service and pay more anyways. Your non-billable time goes down, which means billable time goes up,and you end up making MORE money.

I speak from experience. From the real world. In a very rural area of the country, with not a booming economy.
Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
Cliff:  Well said!  There is much truth in it.  I value your experience.
Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
Thank you both!
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