Files without Borders

There are two computers on my desk–one Macintosh and one PC–and lately they've been getting along quite well. Part of the reason is that exchanging files has gotten easier with Mac OS 8.5's File Exchange 3.0 control panel. File Exchange has two basic functions–opening a PC file based on the extension used in the file's name (such as .txt or .doc) and determining which program can open a document when the application that created it can't be found.

However, both parts of File Exchange can be used to do much more than open and convert files. Here's how to tap into other aspects of File Exchange's file-handling smarts.

You may think of File Exchange as a tool strictly for crossing from PC to Mac or vice versa, but its ability to link specific document types to specific applications can pay off in other ways–even if you never touch a single PC disk.

One useful trick, for example, is to turn PostScript files into PDFs simply by double-clicking on them. To configure File Exchange for this trick, follow these steps: In the File Translation panel of File Exchange, click on the Add button to open the Add Translation Preference dialog box. Select a PostScript file in the dialog box, and then click on Continue. From the list of applications available to open the file, choose Acrobat Distiller, and click on OK. (You may have to turn off the Show Recommended Choices Only check box to make Distiller appear as a choice in the window.) You'll end up with a translation-preference listing like the one shown in "Click to Distill." Now when you double-click on a PostScript file, your Mac will launch Distiller and process the file, no questions asked.

Click to Distill   This translation preference in File Exchange causes PostScript files to automatically open in Acrobat Distiller, allowing you to turn them into PDF files simply by double-clicking on them.

With the help of the PC Exchange window in File Exchange, you can even control which program will open a given file–simply by changing the file's name. That's because PC Exchange chooses the program it will use to open up a PC file based on the DOS-style extension tacked on the end of the file's name: double-click on a .doc file, and Microsoft Word is launched; double-click on a .xls file, and you get Excel; and so on. Change a file's name to include a different extension, and PC Exchange will fire up a different application to launch it.

Imagine you have three text files imported from a PC. All three files bear the .txt extension, but one of them is a document created in a word processor, one is a tab-delimited text file exported from a database, and the third is financial data exported from a spreadsheet.

By default, double-clicking will open all three as SimpleText files–readable but not terribly useful. With a few keystrokes, though, you can have each file open in a more appropriate application. Add a .fm3 to the name of the second file, for example, and double-clicking on it will launch FileMaker Pro, putting the data into a new database. Change the end of the third file's name to .xls, and the spreadsheet data will open in Excel.

Alternatively, you can choose which program you want to use to open a specific file by turning off the second check box in the PC Exchange window–the one that says Open Unmapped Files On Any Disk Using Mappings Below. With that option turned off, when you double-click on a Windows file, you'll see all the available applications that can open the file. Just pick the one you want to use from the list.

The previous secret is useful if you have a handful of individual files that need converting, but what if you have dozens–or even hundreds–of files you need to open with a specific program? Instead of adding the correct extension to each file's name, you can create a global translation preference in File Exchange that teaches your Mac to open the files in whatever application you want, regardless of how the files are named.

For example, you could configure File Exchange so that multiple HTML files created on a PC would open directly in a Web authoring program, such as Adobe GoLive. To do this, go to File Exchange's File Translation panel and click on Add. Select one of the PC HTML files (you can just drag one from the Finder straight into the Add Translation Preference window to select it), and click on Continue. From the list of applications available to open the file, choose GoLive, and click on OK. The translation preference will now cause the PC files to open in GoLive (see "Program of Preference").

After you're done editing all those pages, you can change the translation preference again, deleting the GoLive preference and replacing it with a mapping that links the HTML files to, say, Internet Explorer. Now, clicking on the same HTML files will make them open not in GoLive but in Internet Explorer.

Even with these tips, you're still likely to encounter the odd file that takes a little more effort to open, but with File Exchange properly configured, most of the journeys your files take from Windows to the Mac OS should involve little more than a simple double-click.

Just about everyone knows that a .doc file is a Microsoft Word document. But what exactly is a .pot file or a .ram document? If you mix with the Windows world with some frequency, you'll probably encounter such files and want to know what they are.

In such cases, you can use File Exchange as a miniglossary that serves as a guide to the world of PC extension names. By default, the control panel lists more than 200 different extensions (along with the names of the applications needed to read them). To find out which application belongs to a particular extension, just click on File Exchange's PC Exchange tab and type the first letter or two of the extension to jump straight down to the appropriate entry in the list. Moments later you'll find out that a .pot file is a PowerPoint template and that those .ram files your friends sent you are Real Player documents.

You can do reverse lookups, too. Need to know what the three-letter PC extension is for a Microsoft Excel template? Click on the Application header in the PC Exchange list, and type the first few letters of the word Microsoft to see all the extension entries for Excel--including .xlt for Excel templates.

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To set up a new preference, open File Exchange and click on the Add button (not shown). Then, target the file type you want to open - in this case, PC HTML files
Next, click on Continue and pick the program you want to use to open the file.
The new preference will automatically open the files in the program you chose, without prompting, as long as the second check box (Always Show Choices When Translating Files) is left unchecked.
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