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How to get Macs and PCs to play nice together

Posted on: November 26, 2011

How-to-get-Macs-and-PCs-to-play-nice-together

Macs and PCs may work differently, but they can coexist together. Learn how to comfortably straddle the gap between both operating systems with these simple tips.

Microsoft and Apple have always been competitors on some level, and as a result, their fans often contain a bit of that old competitive spirit. It’s not uncommon for Mac buyers to become overnight loyalists, but Windows has an entrenched fanboy battalion as well.

Given the situation, it’s almost unnatural to think that – *gasp* – someone might own both a Windows PC and a Mac. Can you imagine the nerve? In the same household! Yet it does occur. In fact, I myself own a Windows PC as well as a MacBook, and so far one hasn’t killed the other (or me) while I slept.

With that said, getting the two to play nice can take some time. File, software, and hardware compatibility issues are not as bad as they were a decade ago, but they do exist. Fortunately, there are ways to overcome them.

Conquering old-fashioned file compatibility problems

There was once a time when trying to move a file between a PC and a Mac was a real hassle. Software on each end was wildly different, so files saved on a Mac often could not be opened in Windows without some form of conversion. Error-Cartoon

Today, this problem has lessened. However, the two operating systems continue to use different file systems. Windows relies on NTFS, while OS X uses HFS Plus.

This has no impact on actual file compatibility. A Word document written on a Mac using HFS Plus can be opened on an NTFS file system Windows PC. The problem is the method of file transfer. Macs can read files on an NTFS drive, but can’t write to an NTFS drive, while Windows can neither read nor write to HFS Plus drives. If you normally use physical media to transfer files, this could be a stumbling block.

What’s the solution? Get FAT…32. This file system, which was used by Windows back in the Windows 95/98 era, is read/write compatible with both Windows and Mac OS X. Thumb drives and external hard drives formatted with FAT32 will be compatible with both systems. Problem solved right?

Software compatibility continues to disappoint

Software is still a compatibility sticking point between Macs and PCs. It is still up to a developer to code for either operating system.

Microsoft’s debut of Office for the Mac was the only major software compatibility change to recently take place (and even this occurred years ago), but it was important. Basic productivity tasks are now much easier to complete if you own both platforms because you’ll have a set of familiar and compatible programs available on both.

Windows-7-and-Mac-OS

However, it’s almost universally true that you must purchase the Windows and Mac versions individually, which can be a pain to your pocketbook. One notable exception is Steam for Mac. This gaming platform provides gamers with both a Windows and Mac copy of a video game (if the Mac version is available) when they purchase a title.

Syncing files between systems

File sync software is a blessing if you own multiple computers, but for those who own both PCs and Macs, software compatibility issues are a roadblock. Sync software often only supports one platform or the other.

Surprisingly, one of the easier solutions comes from Microsoft. The company offers a program called Windows Live Mesh that can be used to sync files between systems, and it has both a PC and Mac version. I’ve personally used this and found it works well – and it’s completely free, no matter how much data you need to sync.

Another option is, well, any service that’s based in the cloud. Dropbox is the most common example, but there are tons of similar offerings. However, you usually need to pay once your storage needs go beyond a certain point because the files are stored in the cloud, not on your computers.

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1 Response to "How to get Macs and PCs to play nice together"

Great to hear from another Windows and Mac co-user. After a decade they haven’t waged war on each other (or me) while I sleep either!

OSX definitely made Mac and PC networking much easier… I can remember the struggle to get these op systems to network back in the days of that nasty OS9 with custom scripts. Since OSX I’ve had very few issues networking the two platforms, both in a Workgroup and server (domain) environment.

Worgroup networking is typically the easier of the methods, with just some settings to allow the Mac to recognise the Workgroup shares. Connecting a Mac to a Windows server (Server 2003 and later) is a little more complicated and a few settings are required to the server installation which are turned off by default…

The Mac will then read and write files (USUALLY) to the server even if NTFS file system is used. The main limitation seems to be where long files names are used (fine for Windows NTFS, not so good for Mac). And of course ensuring the Mac has been setup to include files extensions when saving a new file – the most annoying aspect of the default settings for Mac OS is not including file extensions.

One of my customers has a fairly large workgroup type network (a graphic design and advertising agency) without using a server (been trying to sell them a server for years – won’t bite), with numerous systems, Mac OS 10.3 onwards and Win XP / 7. The workforce routinely use and edit files on any of the networked machines.

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