Sharing disks between Mac & PC

Written by gantico on . Posted in general

Mac OSX and Vista packagesIncompatible files systems between Windows and Mac has been causing a lot of headaches since long ago. The growing number of people migrating from PC to Mac, or giving up on Vista, made the issue appearing even more evident. It’s emblematic the case of Windows running through Boot Camp: if you boot with Windows you can’t see the Mac partition, if you boot with OSX you can read but not write in the Windows partition.


Microsoft evidently hasn’t had interest in doing any effort for opening its NTFS standard. But this barrier for preventing people to leave Windows, works in the opposite direction as well: if you want to move data from a Mac to a PC, you are obstructed by the incompatibility of disks formatted in HFS+. Not to mention the pain of a bidirectional cross-platform workflow. Fortunately, there are some workarounds to solve the problem.

Solution 1: Ethernet connection and File Sharing

NetworkIf you have Mac and PC connected in a network, you can activate file sharing for full access from any system. This is a good option especially for existing and fast networks (100Mbit – 1Gbit), but the speed and responsiveness of a directly connected disk are required by applications such as video editing.

Unless you luckily own a high-end solution over a dedicated Fiber channel network, you need a cross-platform storage alternative for disk intensive tasks. The same is true for using Boot Camp or if you want to move an external drive from a PC in one location to a Mac in another, and vice-versa.

Solution 2: Disk or a partition formatted in FAT32

The old FAT32 is readable and writable by Windows, Mac OS X and almost any other OS. It assures the maximum compatibility, but FAT32 is a bit outdated and is failing to make the best use of modern large drives: it makes your disk easily fragmented (= slowness and risk of loosing data in worst cases) and has some limitations. The maximum size of 4Gb per file compromises the chance to use it for working with video.

FAT32 is ok for modestly sized disks or partitions, for USB disk keys, compact Flashes and memories in digital cameras or other devices, iPods or any storage unit smaller then 32Gb. That was the limit arbitrarily set by Microsoft: the format program on Windows XP and Vista was restricted to 32Gb. Some utilities can easily overcame it, but Microsoft stated that many tasks on a very large FAT32 file system become slow and inefficient.

Solution 3: Utilities for reading and writing NTFS on Mac

There are a couple of options: NTFS for Mac OSX, a commercial software just released by Paragon, and MacFuse + NTFS-3G, free open source projects. The first option is claimed to offer good performances combined with complete access to the file system, including full file ownership. The second is frequently updated and has a good support from the community, like in this tutorial on lifehack.org.

If you don’t mind to write a couple of lines in Terminal and dealing with the set-up, give a try to MacFuse + NTFS-3G. If you want an immediate solution without wondering about nothing more then a standard installation, buy NTFS for Mac OS X and take advantage of its introductory price: $29.95 instead of $39.95.

NTFS for Mac OS X 6.0NTFS for Mac OSX is aimed to provide rapid reading and writing to any NTFS partitions under Mac OS, without having any complex translation applications or file services like AFP or Samba protocols. It supports Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger and higher and all NTFS versions. Some users are already blogging about their satisfaction for having tried this option.
View all the infos about NTFS for Mac OSX.

MacFuse bannerMacFuse is the open source program that enables Mac OS X 10.4 (“Tiger”) or above to run file systems normally not supported by Mac. It requires some attention in the configuration and for the specific NTFS file system you need also NTFS-3G. View all the details on MacFuse.

NTFS-3G 1.0!NTFS-3G is the open source driver that extends MacFuse to read and write on NTFS. It supports most file system operations, with the exception of full file ownership and access right. It has a long evolution history with a remarkable detail: one of its developer was recently hired by Apple to work on read-write NTFS support for Mac OS X. A Swedish guy runs a blog fully dedicated to the project.
View all the details on the official site.

Solution 4: Utilities for reading and writing HFS+ on PC

MacDrive 7 - iconMacDrive 7, from Media Four. It’s the most diffused and evolved tool in its category. At the time of writing this guide, it was the only one updated for Vista. It makes any Mac disk visible as if it was created by a PC and it offers extra functionalities: you can create Mac disks for file transfers and backups using the MacDrive CD/DVD Creator.
The included MacDrive Disk Manager gives you the power to partition, format, analyze and even repair Mac disks. The price is 49$. View all the details about MacDrive.

Other options: you can find a list on macwindows.com, but there aren’t other programs updated for Vista. The second most diffused utility, Mac Opener, has just been discontinued. Its producer, DataViz, now recommends Mac Drive 7.

Notes

If you retrieve from a PC files created or modified by Mac, pay attention to Apple Double Format: it should be preserved if you want to avoid troubles in accessing again the files from a Mac. In other words don’t delete the resource fork files (._xxx), unless you are sure what you will keep working on those files only from a PC.

I’ve not directly tested solution 3, I’m just reporting information from developers, official sites and blogs.

Related resources

about.com: How to Share Files between your Mac and PC – November 21, 2007
lifehacker.com: The Complete Guide to Mac/Windows Interoperability – October 19, 2007
lifehacker.com: How to access a Mac’s files on your PC – March 27, 2007
myfirstmac.com: Moving Files Between a Mac and a PC the Easy Way – August 30, 2007
chris.pirillo.com: Sharing Files Between Mac OS X and Windows XP – August 28, 2007
techrepublic.com: 10 things you should know about connecting OS X to Windows – 2006
cquirke.mvps.org: NTFS vs. FAT32 – 2004

Would you recommend other solutions? Leave a comment and I’ll update this guide.

Tags: Mac & PC