Get Leopard and Windows to play nice

Editor’s Note: This story is excerpted from Computerworld. For more Mac coverage, visit Computerworld’s Macintosh Knowledge Center.

One of the major selling points for Macs and Mac OS X Leopard these days is their ability to work well in a largely Windows world. Apple offers two ways to accomplish this task: Leopard’s ability to share files and printers with Windows machines, and the ability of Intel-based Macs to run Windows using either Boot Camp (which is included free as part of Leopard) or third-party virtualization tools.

Read Macworld's Best of Both Worlds: OS X and Windows feature article

Although Leopard and Windows typically play well together, understanding some of the nuances for getting a new Mac to talk with your existing PCs—or getting the best experience running Windows on that new Mac—can sometimes be a little challenging. In this article, we’ll look at some of the details you should understand to get the best of both worlds.

When Leopard and Windows need to talk on a network

Our first set of tips relates to those situations where you have one or more Macs running Leopard that need to share files or other resources with Windows machines over a network connection. For the most part, these tips apply to home or small office environments.

Configuring network settings

On a Windows network, NetBIOS names, workgroups and Windows Internet Name Service (WINS) settings play a key role in communication among computers. As advanced Windows users know, the NetBIOS name for a computer establishes its identity on a network.

A workgroup identifies a group of computers that can communicate using SMB (short for Server Message Block), the native file and printer sharing protocol for Windows. In the My Network Places window, individual computers are displayed within the context of their workgroups.

This is possible because SMB supports the discovery of devices on a local network using broadcasts to determine which devices are available. Normally, one PC in a workgroup, typically the first one powered on, assumes the role of the master browser on a local network and maintains a list of available devices.

Workgroups are commonly used in home and small business environments, since they provide some organizational capabilities but don’t require a centralized server to manage them. A related feature in some larger environments is WINS, which provides a mechanism for enabling device self-discovery in environments where there are large numbers of PCs and other SMB devices, or where there are multiple network segments connected via a router.

For a Mac to participate in a Windows network, it must also have a unique NetBIOS name and be assigned to the same workgroup as the PCs with which it will interact. If a WINS server is used on a network, a Mac (like a PC) will need to know the address of that server.

In Windows, most of this information can be adjusted by choosing Control Panel —> System (or by right-clicking on My Computer in Windows XP or Computer in Vista and selecting Properties) to display the System Properties. The Computer Name tab (or section in Vista) allows you to view a PC’s current NetBIOS name and workgroup. You can change the name and workgroup using the Change button (or the Change Settings link in Vista).

If a WINS server is used in a larger environment, the settings are generally configured by a network administrator and automatically provided to PCs or else manually designated in the Properties dialog on individual PCs by the IT staff.

In Leopard, all these options are located together and can be accessed via the Network pane in System Preferences. You set these options by selecting an active network interface (such as Ethernet or AirPort) in the list of available interfaces and clicking the Advanced button.

In the Advanced Network Options dialog, select the WINS tab and enter the appropriate information. You should observe the same naming conventions used by Windows PCs. As with many versions of Windows, Leopard will default to the name Workgroup for its workgroup if no other name has been specified.

Configuring these options appropriately on all your connected machines should help ensure that your Mac(s) and Windows PC(s) can communicate properly over the network.

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