If you have lots of files—or just a really big one—that you need to share with a Windows user, you may be better off sharing an entire drive instead.
Problem: You want to open Windows-formatted disks on your Mac.
Solution: No problem! (Well, almost.)
As of version 10.3 (Panther), OS X can read any hard drives formatted on a PC, as well as any CDs and DVDs. That includes drives that use the FAT (File Allocation Table) and Windows NTFS (New Technology File System) formats.
However, you have to watch out for a couple of annoying problems with the NTFS format. If you have an NTFS drive connected to your Mac at startup, Mac OS X will ask if you want to format it. Don’t do so unless you want to erase everything on the drive.
Even worse, OS X can’t write to NTFS disks; it can only read them. The only way to write to an NTFS drive from your Mac is to run Windows on the Mac (using Boot Camp or a Windows emulator; see “Running Windows on Your Mac” on the next page). You’ll have complete access to NTFS from within Windows. On PowerPC Macs, some Windows emulators (including Virtual PC) can also write to an NTFS disk image.
Problem: You want to send a disk to a Windows user.
Solution: Format it in FAT32.
Windows cannot read the Mac OS-only HFS (Hierarchical File System) and HFS+ formats. One workaround is to reformat the drive you’re sending. In Disk Utility, go to the Erase tab’s Volume Format pop-up menu and select a format. The best choice here is MS-DOS File System (the PC’s FAT32 format). Just don’t use Mac OS Extended or any of its variations; that’s HFS+. And remember that OS X can’t format a drive in NTFS.
If reformatting the drive isn’t an option, your Windows friends will have to install software that allows Windows to read Mac-formatted drives. One of the best utilities for this purpose is MediaFour’s
With Mediafour’s MacDrive installed in Windows, Mac-formatted drives look just like PC drives.
Different drives, different formats
|Format ||Used Primarily By ||Windows ||OS X ||Best Use |
| || ||Read ||Write ||Read ||Write || |
|FAT32 (File Allocation Table [32-bit]) ||Windows ||Y ||Y ||Y ||Y ||Swapping drives back and forth between Macs and PCs. |
|NTFS (New Technology File System) ||Windows ||Y ||Y ||Y ||N ||Reading a Windows-formatted drive once and not needing to send it back with Mac data. |
|HFS, HFS + (Hierarchical File System) ||OS X ||N ||N ||Y ||Y ||Sharing drives with other Mac systems and with Windows systems that have MacDrive installed. |
|UFS (Unix File System) ||Unix ||N ||N ||Y ||Y ||Sharing hard drives with certain Unix systems, but not with Windows. |
Running Windows on your Mac
If exchanging files and drives with your Windows friends doesn’t serve all your needs, you can always run Windows and Windows apps on your Mac. These days, you’ve got all kinds of options for doing so.
On Intel-based Macs, Apple’s Boot Camp lets you boot into Windows or OS X, but not both: to switch between operating systems, you must do a full reboot. Parallels Desktop lets you run Windows from within OS X. In either case, because Windows is running on Intel chips, it can feel as snappy on a Mac as it does on a PC.
If you have a PowerPC Mac, Windows will run slower. Microsoft’s
Virtual PC ( ), Lismore Software Systems’
Guest PC 1.2 ( ), and iEmulator.com’s iEmulator trick Windows into thinking your Mac is an Intel-based PC; this takes some processing power. Virtual PC is top dog in terms of speed and features, followed by Guest PC. iEmulator is less expensive but also less advanced.
Mike Kronenberg’s Q and OpenOSX’s WinTel emulators come in both Intel and PowerPC versions. Naturally, the Intel versions run faster than their PowerPC counterparts—but on each platform, Q and WinTel are slower than their competitors.
Virtual PC is the only product you can buy with Windows preinstalled. The others all require that you also own a copy of Windows. Virtual PC gives you the most options for interacting between Windows and OS X; it even puts a Start menu in the Dock.
DarWine is in a class of its own: it lets you run Windows applications in OS X without actually running Windows. Unfortunately, it’s still in the early stages of development and, as its Web site warns, “is not yet suited for mass distribution or gen-eral user use.”
Lastly, Northstar takes an entirely new approach: Like the Internet remote control service GoToMyPC, it lets you run Windows apps on a remote PC. But unlike GoToMyPC, Northstar supplies the hardware: Windows applications run on Northstar servers and appear on your Mac in the X11 windowing environment (included with Mac OS X 10.3 and later). The $100 annual subscription gives you access to a library of Windows software; for an extra fee, you can supply your own.
Emulation, virtualization, and dual-booting
|Product ||Company ||Price ||OS Compatibility ||Processor Compatibility ||Pros ||Cons |
|Boot Camp (beta) ||
Apple Computer ||free ||N/A ||Intel ||Fast; easy installation. ||Can’t run OS X and Windows at the same time; can’t access Mac disk partition from Windows; some keys don’t work. |
|DarWine 0.9.12 ||
OpenDarWin ||free ||10.3, 10.4 ||Universal ||No need to buy or run Windows. ||Still in early stages of development; no tech support. |
|Guest PC 1.9 ||
Lismore Software Systems ||$70 ||10.3, 10.4 ||PowerPC ||Relatively inexpensive; allows copy and pasting or dragging of files between OS X and Windows; supports USB peripherals. ||Slower than Virtual PC. |
|iEmulator 1.7.8 ||
iEmulator.com ||$24 ||10.3, 10.4 ||PowerPC ||Can import PC profiles from Virtual PC 7. ||Slower than Virtual PC and Guest PC. |
True North Technology ||$100 annually ||10.3, 10.4 ||Universal ||An Internet subscription service; runs Windows apps on PowerPC and Intel Macs. ||Need connection to Internet to run Windows apps. |
|Parallels Desktop (beta) ||
Parallels ||$80 ||10.4 ||Intel ||Fast, simultaneous access to OS X and Windows; easy installation; runs Linux. ||Can’t drag items between OSes; some keys don’t work. |
|Q (beta) ||
Mike Kronenberg ||free ||10.3, 10.4 ||Universal ||Runs Linux and Windows. ||Slow; emulates some hardware; no tech support. |
|Virtual PC 7 ||
Microsoft ||$219 (with Windows XP Home); $249 (with Windows XP Pro); $129 (without Windows) ||10.2, 10.3, 10.4 ||PowerPC ||Best integration with OS X of any product on either processor; good peripheral support; includes a copy of Windows. ||Expensive; won’t run Linux. |
OpenOSX ||$25 ||10.4 ||Universal ||Comes with ten open-source operating systems. ||Slow; emulates some hardware; doesn’t integrate with OS X as well as Virtual PC or Guest PC. |
N/A = not applicable.
[ John Rizzo is the publisher of