Gone are the dark days when Windows’ forays into Mac territory seemed unstoppable. Apple has reclaimed its strongholds and attracted new populations, but the sheer prevalence of Windows-based PCs means you’ll probably need to cross the border occasionally. An important client may require Windows files, or Dad, a longtime PC user, may not be able to open the e-mail you send him. It could be that the software you need doesn’t run on Macs, so you have to emulate a PC. And when emulation isn’t enough and you must buy a PC, you can at least save money and desk space by sharing your Mac peripherals with the other system.
This guide gives you the essential tools and strategies to thrive in today’s cross-platform world. For the products we examine in depth, you’ll find contact information in the table “Cross-Platform Travel Kit,” while quick mentions of related products include price and contact details.
Convert That File
The report is due tomorrow, and you need the text from Bob in the branch office. But when Bob, who has Windows, sends the report as an e-mail attachment, you realize you’re facing a long night. The file has a blank icon, double-clicking on it does nothing, and none of your programs recognize the format. When you send back the attachment, Bob says he can open and read it, so the problem isn’t file corruption. How can you bridge this inability to communicate before your deadline hits?
Not Your Type
One communication gap between platforms is caused by differences in how the operating systems identify file types and originating applications. Windows files require three- or four-character extensions at the end of file names to provide this information–for example, .doc for Microsoft Word documents. (For more information, see the sidebar “File Typecasting.”)
Windows can’t identify files without three-character extensions. Add extensions manually or use AKA, from Miramar Systems.
All programs involved in transferring files between Macs and PCs rely on an extension-mapping database that says, for instance, any Mac file of type TEXT should have a .txt extension in Windows. You can simplify the process by adding the appropriate file-name extensions yourself (see the File Exchange control panel for a list).
If you need to share a large number of files that lack extensions and your transfer utility won’t add them, check out Miramar Systems’ $20 AKA utility. Despite its clumsy port from Windows, AKA batch-processes entire folders full of files at once, adding extensions and replacing any characters that are illegal in Windows names (such as question marks and commas).
The simplest approach to bridging the language gap between Macs and Windows is to stick with major applications from companies that produce cross-platform versions of their software. Microsoft, Adobe, Quark, and Macromedia all use the same file formats for the Mac and Windows versions of most of their products.
These cross-platform applications handle files from the other platform best when the versions are roughly comparable. For example, try to open an Adobe PageMaker 5 for Windows file in PageMaker 6 for Mac, and you’re out of luck. But you can usually open a Microsoft Word 98 for Windows file in Word 98 for Mac. Fonts may cause cross-platform problems, but that’s a separate issue. (For more on font differences, see the online sidebar “Font of Wisdom” at
Employ a Translator
When you can’t use a cross-platform application, rely instead on translators. Most productivity applications, including AppleWorks and Nisus Writer, can both save and open documents in a variety of common formats. If you want to send your accountant an AppleWorks spreadsheet, use Save As within AppleWorks and choose a format your accountant can likely open, such as Microsoft Excel 4.0. Just beware that this lowest-common-denominator approach may not retain some version-specific features of your documents.
If you need to convert files for Windows users frequently, or if the translators built into your application don’t cut the mustard, get a copy of DataViz’s MacLinkPlus Deluxe 11 ($100), which offers bidirectional translation of a wide variety of file formats. The Document Converter feature is ideal when you need to convert a batch of files simultaneously. It often does a better job than built-in translators with some specialized features, such as styles in word processing documents.
Sometimes full cross-platform operability isn’t a requirement. For example, when you’re designing a company’s business cards, your clients don’t need to open your Adobe Illustrator or Macromedia Freehand files and manipulate them–they want only to see what the design looks like. In cases such as this, try formats most applications can view regardless of platform.
To gain a better understanding of why you may run into file conversion problems across platforms, take a look at the different ways the Mac and Windows operating systems identify file types and originating applications.
Windows files need three-letter extensions at the end of file names to identify both the file type and the originating application. The .doc extension tells the Windows OS that the file is a Microsoft Word document.
The Mac interface buries the file type and creator information in the file as two four-letter codes. The type code identifies the expenses file as TEXT. The creator code links it to an application–in this case, Microsoft Word.
Everyone with a Web browser can view GIF and JPEG images, and most programs can save in or export these formats. When you need higher resolutions than GIFs and JPEGs can provide, Adobe Acrobat’s Portable Document Format (PDF) is a good choice. A PDF file preserves the typefaces, graphics, and layout of the original file. Anyone on a Mac or a PC can view or print out (but not modify) PDF files with the free Acrobat Reader.
There are several ways to create PDF files. Some applications have built-in PDF export. Adobe also provides a Web-based PDF converter (
) that allows three free conversions. James Walker’s $20 shareware PrintToPDF printer driver (
) handles less-complex documents. For the full range of creation and modification features, you’ll need the $249 Adobe Acrobat package (
http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat, 888/724-4508). The package includes Distiller, Capture, and Catalog, in addition to Acrobat.
Transfer That File
After converting files, the next task is to get them across the platform border. There are a variety of ways to move files around the office and the world, and which one makes the most sense depends on your individual situation.
Follow our examples and see which option best matches your needs.
You’re a freelance writer, churning out articles for any magazine that will pay. You could send your work on disks, but that’s slow, and overnight delivery gets expensive. The best approach for individuals working on their own is to transfer files via the Internet, mostly through e-mail. (FTP is another inexpensive solution for transferring files over the Internet, but many people don’t know how to use it effectively, and storing confidential files on a public FTP server can be problematic.)
To avoid cross-platform e-mail problems, encode attachments using the AppleDouble format or Base64.
Although you may find sending and receiving e-mail attachments a frustrating experience, you can eliminate most cross-platform problems by following these rules:
Make sure that file names sport the appropriate Windows extensions.
Encode attachments using the AppleDouble (also called MIME) format. If that doesn’t work, switch to Base64, then to UUencode. If the recipient uses America Online, stick with Base64. Attachment format settings are in your e-mail program’s outgoing message windows or Preferences menu.
When attachments from Windows users get mangled in transmission, ask the sender to try the MIME format, then UUencode.
To send multiple files, compress them in a single archive. If you create StuffIt archives, the Mac standard, make sure your recipient has the free Aladdin Expander for Windows (
http://www.aladdinsys.com, 831/761-6200). You can also create Zip archives, the standard in Windows, using Aladdin’s $20 shareware DropZip or Tom Brown’s $15 shareware ZipIt (
Download a free copy of Aladdin’s StuffIt Expander to decode whatever compression or encoding format you receive. If you find even StuffIt Expander failing you on a regular basis, DataViz’s MacLink Plus may be a better option.
Stick with Disks
The Internet might be everywhere, but sometimes only disks will do. For example, your desktop publishing files may be so large that they’d take hours to transmit to a client for approval or to a service bureau for printing, so sending them on disk is your best option. Here, too, cross-platform problems can crop up.
Mac users can read and write data on disks formatted for Windows, so sending Mac files on Windows-formatted Zip and Jaz disks, SyQuest cartridges, and Orb disks is relatively trouble-free. However, recordable CDs can cause problems, even when you set them up in the cross-platform ISO 9660 format. Use file names longer than the creaky DOS standard of eight letters, then a dot, then three letters, and the CD-burning process may truncate those names and end up breaking links between files on the CD-R. If you’ve got the popular Toast app from Adaptec ($89,
http://www.adaptec.com, 800/442-7274), you can preserve your file names by choosing Allow Macintosh Names from the Settings menu.
A few people are turning to DVD-RAM disks for the heftiest jobs. Just make sure to format DVD-RAM disks using the cross-platform Universal Disk Format to reduce compatibility issues.
Dave in the Chooser
When running Dave, you access PC-shared resources through the Dave Client in the Chooser; this option isn’t available in the Network Browser.
When PC users need to read and write to your Macintosh-formatted disks, tell them about MacDrive 2000, from Mediafour, or MacOpener 2000, from DataViz. Both cost $60, handle almost any type of Macintosh disk, and map Macintosh file types and creators to Windows file-name extensions on-the-fly, so the extensions disappear when you view the disks on a Mac again. MacDrive gets our nod because it supports copying Mac disks, extracting Mac files from MacBinary and BinHex encoded files, creating MacBinary files, and viewing the contents of Mac files’ resource forks.
Lone Mac in a PC Network
You land a great job with a Windows-based company that agrees to let you use your beloved Mac. Or maybe your company converts from Mac to Windows, with only your Mac left. You must share files with your Windows coworkers, and in most modern workplaces that means an Ethernet network. The trick is creating a setup that lets your Mac talk with all those PCs.
Two options make the most sense when you have one or two Macs hiding in a Windows-based network: the Services for Macintosh functions that come with Microsoft’s Windows NT 4.0 Server ($809) and Windows 2000 Server ($999), and Dave 2.5.1 ($149), from Thursby Software Systems.
Choosing between these options is simple. If you already have Windows NT 4.0 Server or Windows 2000 Server running on your network, you can easily activate Services for Macintosh, which provides AppleShare services over AppleTalk or, for better performance, TCP/IP. For installation instructions, see the online sidebar “Install Services for the Macintosh” at
But when that’s not feasible, Dave is your best bet. This stealth solution lets a Mac masquerade as a PC network client, and it doesn’t require putting more software on the server, so it’s less likely to alienate potentially Mac-hostile network administrators.
Once you’ve installed Dave on a Mac (you don’t need to make changes on any PC), the Macintosh can see shared resources on PCs, including folders and printers. You can create desktop printers for PC PostScript printers, make aliases to shared PC folders, and generally work with PC resources as though a Mac were hosting them. In addition, you can use the Dave Sharing control panel to give PC users access to shared folders and printers on your Mac. The main negatives are that you must access PC resources through the Dave client in the Chooser rather than through the Network Browser (see the screen shot “Dave in the Chooser”), and the PC terminology and protocols can prove confusing.
Both Dave and Services for Macintosh allow you to copy Macintosh files with resource forks, such as applications and fonts, to a PC and back again with no data loss.
Lone PC in a Mac Network
You may find yourself in the opposite situation, where you need to integrate a PC in an otherwise all-Mac office. Both Dave and Windows 2000 Server enable file sharing (as an internal FTP server would), but you don’t have to outfit multiple Macs with Dave or install and administer a dedicated Windows 2000 server for such minimal needs. Instead, look to the $149 TSSTalk 1.0, from Thursby Software Systems; the $199 PC MacLAN 7.2 or 8.0, from Miramar Systems; the $510 AppleShare IP 6.3.1, from Apple; or the $159 Timbuktu Pro 2000, from Netopia.
TSSTalk (previously known as COPSTalk) offers the most basic way to share files and printers with Macs, since it lets a Windows machine use Network Neighborhood to connect to your existing AppleShare servers and printers. Moreover, it doesn’t allow Macs to access the PC running TSSTalk. To avoid sluggish behavior when you’re browsing the AppleTalk zone, map shared folders to drive letters. Some caveats: at press time TSSTalk didn’t work with Windows 2000, you can’t use the Windows 95/98 version of TSSTalk with Symantec’s Norton AntiVirus, and the program comes with a sparse extension-mapping database.
PC MacLAN 7.2 (Windows 95/98) and 8.0 (Windows NT/2000) are basically Dave in reverse. Enabling a PC to act as an AppleTalk network client, they also include their own file and print server that allows networked Macs to access files on the PC and its printers. PC MacLAN’s directory listings are more readable than TSSTalk’s and AppleShare IP’s.
PC MacLAN’s file server essentially ignores the built-in Windows interfaces for creating users and sharing folders. Its interface fits better into the mindset of most Macintosh users. Since its file server is a full-fledged AppleTalk-based AppleShare server, shared folders appear in the Mac’s Network Browser. Thanks to its file and print server, PC MacLAN has significantly more power than both TSSTalk versions for only $30 to $50 more.
AppleShare IP starts at around $500, so it’s probably overkill if all you need is file sharing with a lone PC on a Macintosh network. But when you already have AppleShare IP or need enough of its full set of services (a print server and servers for FTP, the Web, and Internet e-mail) to warrant the purchase, you’ll find setting up file access for a Windows PC simple–just check the Enable Windows File Sharing (SMB) check box in the Windows tab when configuring file sharing, and make sure you have a shared folder and a user who can access that folder.
Netopia’s Timbuktu Pro (which includes Timbuktu Pro 5.2 for the Mac and Timbuktu Pro 2000 for Windows) is primarily known as remote control software–it lets you view and operate the PC in a window on your Mac–but it also sports speedy file-transfer capabilities. On the minus side, Timbuktu Pro doesn’t offer printer sharing of any sort. Thanks to a clumsy interface for transferring files (see the screen shot “Timbuktu Pro File Transfer Window”), Timbuktu Pro makes sense only if you need remote control and don’t care much about printer sharing.
With the exception of PC MacLAN’s file server, when you transfer files from a Mac to a PC, all four of these products copy only the Mac files’ data fork, which stores the guts of most documents. That’s seldom an issue with documents, but the process can actually destroy applications, along with other files that rely on their resource forks, such as fonts.
Run Windows on Your Mac
Sometimes you run into a cross-platform problem when you need to access capabilities that are unique to one platform or the other. For example, imagine you’re in the construction business and you need to run a particular
Windows-only program for making project estimates. Everything else in your office is Mac-based–how can you add this single application to your workflow inexpensively?
You can choose one of several paths. Compatibility cards, which graft most of the guts of a PC into your Mac, were once an option, but rumor has it that the last remaining vendor, OrangeMicro, has recently discontinued them. Software emulators, a less powerful alternative, use your Mac’s memory and hard drive to simulate Windows so you can run Windows applications. Or you can buy a cheap PC, stuff it in a closet, and use remote-control software to direct it from your Mac.
Fake It Good
Evaluating PC emulation programs is tricky, since they’re most likely used with custom software that serves a specific task, and custom programs often act flaky even on real PCs. That said, here are our overall impressions of and insights into which programs work most smoothly on the Mac. (See the benchmark, “Testing the Boundaries,” for performance numbers.)
We give the nod to Connectix’s Virtual PC 3.0 ($179 with Windows 98 and a whopping $329 with Windows 2000), which offers the tightest integration with Mac OS. You can share Macintosh folders with the PC environment by dragging them to a Folders button on the Virtual PC window border, and in a unique and elegant twist, you can also copy files back and forth with a simple drag-and-drop move. Copying and pasting works transparently between Windows and Mac OS as well. Notable in the latest release of Virtual PC is support for a number of USB devices within Windows 98. And in the most recent minor update (3.0.3), Connectix added support for the Velocity Engine in the G4 chip, which might improve performance in certain situations.
Another software emulator, FWB’s $159 SoftWindows 98, offers most of the same folder-sharing and copy-and-paste Macintosh integration features. You can also easily copy images from the Windows environment to the Mac. In our testing, SoftWindows continually encouraged switching the monitor to 256 colors and proved somewhat clumsier to configure and use.
For serious use of any software emulator, we recommend a fast G3- or G4-based Mac with at least 96MB of physical RAM and 600MB of free hard-disk space.
If your Mac lacks the oomph to emulate Windows at a reasonable speed, or your custom program simply doesn’t run well in an emulator, you can couple an inexpensive PC with remote-control software, such as Netopia’s Timbuktu Pro or VNC, from AT&T Research Laboratories Cambridge. This combination lets you view the PC in a window on your Macintosh (see “Control Windows from Afar”). Even if you don’t share hardware between the machines (see “Sharing Hardware,” elsewhere in this feature), you’ll still need a separate PC monitor, keyboard, and mouse–just in case. For example, if your PC runs into trouble, you might need to run ScanDisk on it before the remote-control software can take over. However, you can use cheap devices and stash the PC itself out of the way.
Control Windows from Afar
When you need a PC but don’t want it in your main work area, you can stash it away and use remote-control software to view the PC in a window on your Macintosh.
Netopia constantly improves Timbuktu Pro, for years the premier cross-platform remote-control software. You can transfer files back and forth, move the contents of the Clipboard between computers, and save the remote desktop as a PICT file or actions on the remote desktop as a QuickTime movie.
Need to run the occasional Windows application on your Mac? Connectix’s Virtual PC 3.0 integrates tightly with Macintosh Operating System.
On the downside, the jerky remote-control performance can make even a hopped-up PC feel slightly sluggish. Display quirks aren’t uncommon, though few make the PC screen unreadable.
The free VNC fails to match up to Timbuktu Pro in many ways. It’s more complex to configure, offers just remote-control and observation features (no file-transfer, chat, intercom, or screen-capture capabilities), and the Macintosh version seems like a perennial beta release. However, it’s usable and free.
For yet another take on running Windows applications from afar, check out Java-based Personable.com (
). Pay a monthly fee, and you can access a virtual Windows 2000 desktop within Internet Explorer 4.0 and higher. The available programs are limited, and system performance may take a hit over a slower Internet connection. But if Personable.com polishes its service and offers more applications, it might become a useful way to avoid buying either a PC or emulation software.
You can share quite a bit of hardware between Macs and Windows computers these days, either swapping devices from one machine to another or connecting devices to multiple computers simultaneously via switch boxes.
You’ve got a perfectly good LaserWriter for your Mac–why bother buying a new printer just for a PC? Very little about a printer is platform-specific, other than its interface–how it connects to the computer–and the driver it requires. Most high-end laser printers rely on PostScript (and therefore work with standard drivers included in both Mac and Windows) and are accessible via Ethernet. Sharing inexpensive ink-jet printers presents more of a challenge, since they generally require custom drivers and connect via serial (old-style Macintosh), parallel (old-style PC), or USB ports–or some combination thereof. To find Mac drivers for PC-based printers, check out Infowave’s PowerPrint products (Editor’s note: Infowave’s Imaging Division is now Strydent Software, 800/663-6222,
You can find Mac drivers for many printers that shipped with only a Windows driver at
Most products that share files between Macs and PCs on a network (including Dave, PC MacLAN, and TSSTalk) also share PostScript printers. Infowave (now Strydent) offers PowerPrint for Networks, which comes with a small hardware print server. For low-end printers on computers not connected to a network, spend around $50 on cables and a switch box from a company such as Belkin (
http://www.belkin.com, 800/223-5546), and your Mac and PC can access the same device. Some printers with both a serial port for the Mac and a parallel port for the PC can detect incoming print jobs on both without a switch box.
Tale of Two Systems
Dr. Bott’s MoniSwitch USB is handy when you’re sharing your Mac’s monitor, key-board, and mouse with a PC box.
When you don’t need to look at the PC often, consider sharing a single monitor between it and your Mac to save money and a lot of desk space. As long as the monitor is multisync–that is, it can operate at a variety of resolutions–this should be easy. If you bought your Mac in the last several years, you may need an adapter for the two-row 15-pin connector some older monitors use. You can often get an adapter free from the monitor manufacturer if you call and request one. Most monitors today, along with current Macs, use a three-row, 15-pin, VGA-style connector–standard issue in the PC world.
You’ll also need a monitor switch box, such as Dr. Bott’s $139 MoniSwitchUSB (
http://www.drbott.com, 503/452-8101). It’s more expensive than simple serial or USB switch boxes, but it lets two computers share a keyboard and mouse.
Keyboard and Mouse
With Apple’s adoption of USB in place of ADB for input devices, sharing keyboards and pointing devices has become easier, and it’s a great way to avoid cluttering your desk, plus you can use your favorite Macintosh trackball. Most devices should work at a basic level in both directions, but using devices designed for Windows systems is a little trickier. For more information, see the online sidebar “Cross-Platform Input Devices” at
Modems and Serial Devices
As long as you’re sharing devices to save money, why not share an external modem or Palm cradle too? To share either of these devices, you’ll need appropriate serial cables for the Mac and the PC, plus a cheap switch box to eliminate annoying cable swapping. For modem sharing, you may also need drivers on the PC side or modem scripts on the Mac side–visit the modem manufacturer’s tech-support site for details.
The situation is more confusing for other serial devices. Unlike Palm Computing’s cradles for Palm handhelds, most PC devices don’t have Macintosh versions of their software, even if you can connect a serial cable to them. When in doubt, contact the manufacturer for compatibility information.
The Last Word
Thanks to Apple’s robust health, Mac users no longer have to fear the wholescale invasion of Windows systems. Ever-improving software and standard cross-platform hardware and file formats such as USB and HTML make communication between the two platforms easier than ever. The iron curtain between Macs and Windows has opened.
ADAM C. ENGST is the publisher of the e-mail newsletter TidBits and coauthor of the cross-platform translation dictionary Crossing Platforms: A Macintosh/Windows Phrasebook (O’Reilly & Associates, 1999).
Install Services for the Macintosh
When you have an existing Windows NT Server 4.0 or Windows 2000 Server and
need to hook up a few Macs to the Windows server, Microsoft’s Services for
Macintosh is the answer.
Improvements in Windows 2000 Server’s Services for Macintosh include support
for Apple File Protocol over TCP/IP as well as for AppleTalk, a new
encrypted user authentication module (UAM), reporting of the correct NTFS
size and free space on shared volumes mounted on the Mac, support for new
features in NTFS, support for Macs dialing in via the Remote Access control
panel, and more.
To install Services for Macintosh, first make sure your hard disk is
formatted with NTFS rather than FAT32 in the Disk Management aspect of the
Computer Management control panel; check the Windows 2000 help for
instructions on how to convert disks. In the Add/Remove Programs control
panel in Windows 2000 Server, click Add/Remove Windows Components, then
scroll the list until you see Other Network File And Print Services.
Double-click that item; inside it, check the boxes next to File Services For
Macintosh and Print Services For Macintosh, then click OK.
Depending on your preexisting setup, you may need to create a shared folder:
choose Open Control Panel -> Administrative Tools -> Computer Management -> Shared Folders -> Shares, then choose New File Share from the Action menu
and work through the Create Shared Folder wizard. Also make sure the
Macintosh users have user names: choose Open Control Panel -> Administrative
Tools -> Computer Management -> Local Users and Groups -> Users, then choose New User from the Action menu and fill in the New User dialog box.
Font of Wisdom
When you use one keyboard and mouse to control a Mac and a Windows computer
at the same time, you may have to deal with a few quirks.
Although using a Macintosh keyboard on a PC works relatively well (since few
people use the Windows-specific keys on many PC keyboards), the reverse is
more problematic. First, PC keyboards lack the Power key, which means you
have to use the power button on the Mac and you can’t access Apple’s MacsBug
debugger. Second, the main modifier keys on a PC keyboard are, from left to
right, Ctrl, Win, and Alt, as opposed to the Mac’s Control, Option, and ~~.
You can swap the Win and Alt keys to match the Mac’s Option and ~~ keys
using ResEdit on a backup of your System file (see
for instructions). Alternatively, if
you use a Microsoft Natural Elite keyboard, Khalid Shakir has made a free
driver available (
), and Manual Labor is
working on a driver for the Microsoft Natural Keyboard Pro (
The situation is better for pointing devices such as mice, thanks to
Alessandro Levi Montalcini’s powerful $20 shareware USB Overdrive, which
lets you use multiple buttons and scroll wheels on almost any USB pointing
device with the Mac OS (
). The reverse
situation–using a Macintosh mouse on a PC–depends primarily on whether
Windows recognizes the pointing device and can load an appropriate driver.
Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read ouraffiliate link policyfor more details.