Using iPods in a cross-platform environment

In the past week I’ve read half a dozen messages, both here on Playlist’s forums and in my email’s Inbox, about what happens when you use an iPod formatted for Windows on a Mac and vice versa. Time to clear up the confusion.

Windows-formatted iPods on Mac

iPods that are formatted for Windows can be mounted on both Windows PCs and Macs because the Mac OS tolerates FAT32 volumes (one of the primary formatting schemes used by Windows). When you use a Windows-formatted iPod on a Mac, the iPod will behave almost exactly like a Mac-formatted iPod. iTunes will recognize it and sync music, contacts, calendars, notes, and, when appropriate, pictures.

Limitations include slower syncing and the inability to install a bootable Mac OS on the iPod.

Because the Mac is tolerant of a Windows-formatted iPod (but, as you’ll soon learn, Windows doesn’t return the favor for Mac-formatted iPods), if you frequently need to use your iPod in a cross-platform environment, format it on the Windows machine and configure the iPod so that it updates manually (the Manual Update option is found in the iPod preferences window).

Mac-formatted iPods on Windows

Regrettably, this tolerant attitude doesn’t work both ways. A Mac-formatted iPod won’t work with a Windows PC without the presence of a third-party utility such as Mediafour’s XPlay 2 or MacDrive, or DataViz’s MacOpener —utilities that allow HFS+ volumes to work with the Windows operating system.

With one of these utilities installed on your Windows PC, iTunes will recognize the iPod and synchronize music and photos (the Windows versions of iTunes doesn’t support contact and calendar syncing). Third-party Windows iPod utilities such as iPodSync and iPod Agent also work with Mac-formatted iPods when one of the helper utilities is present.

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