How To Switch from Windows to Mac, and Vice Versa

by Reads (26,506)

From Mac to PC

Unfortunately, OS X’s Migration Assistant offers only a one-way ticket. That is, it lets you move files from a PC (or another Mac or external drive) to a Mac, but it doesn’t do the reverse and transfer files from a Mac to a PC. We don’t fault Apple for failing to provide its customers an easy escape route to the competition, but fear not, it’s easy to transfer files from an aging Mac to a shiny new Windows 8 PC.

The easiest way to transfer information from a Mac to a PC is by way of an external drive. Simply connect the drive to your Mac, drag the files over that you want to transfer, and then connect the drive to your PC and drag them off. Though this process involves the extra step of transferring through a middleman, it helps you avoid any networking pitfalls.

There is one important factor to keep in mind if you plan on using an external drive to transfer between the Mac and Windows platforms: each platform uses a different file format. Mac OS X uses HFS+, which Windows can’t read, and Windows users NTFS, which OS X can read but cannot write to.

Thankfully, there is a file format that plays nice with both platforms, providing each with full read and write functionality — FAT32. Thus, you will need to format your external drive (or at least a partition on it) as FAT32 before attempting to transfer files from a Mac to a PC. Be sure to back up any data on the drive before reformatting it because all of its data will be erased in the process. Alternatively, you could use a thumbdrive if you have a small amount of data to transfer, which lets you skip the file system interoperability altogether.

Of course, there must be a reason why FAT32 isn’t the preferred native file system of Apple or Microsoft. It has its share of limitations, which hurt its appeal as a native file system for a modern OS but shouldn’t get in your way as a way to shuttle data from a Mac to a PC. For the curious, FAT32’s two biggest drawbacks are:

  1. It doesn’t allow Windows to format drives and partitions larger than 32GB.
  2. It can’t be used to store big files; nothing larger than 4GB is supported.

As long as you aren’t looking to move GB upon GB of data, transferring via an external drive should pose little trouble, even if you are forced to sit through two transfers (from your Mac to the drive and then from the drive to your PC). If you have relatively new systems, check to see if both have a USB 3.0 port and then get yourself a USB 3.0 external drive; it’s faster than USB 2.0. Better still, if both systems have a Thunderbolt port, use a Thunderbolt drive.

Shared folders to the rescue

You can remove the extra step of using an external hard drive altogether by creating shared folders on your PC and Mac to transfer files. This can also be useful for business users who aren’t simply migrating from one platform to the other but have a mix of PCs and Macs on a network. Wouldn’t your office’s workflow improve if you could drop files in a folder on a Mac and have them appear on a Windows PC, and vice versa?

There is a bit of upfront work needed to establish such a connection, but once you’ve created the link, there is no further effort required on your part to share files in this manner. And you can create shared folders on either an Ethernet or a Wi-Fi network. For this exercise, we set up shared folders on a PC running Windows 8 and a Mac running OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion.

To get started, grab your Windows PC and open the Control Panel. Choose Network and Internet > Network and Sharing Center and from the left panel, click \”Change adapter settings.\” From here, you’ll see your wired or wireless networks. Click on your network and a status window opens where you’ll need to click on the \”Details\” button to jot down an IP address. For Ethernet, you want the Auto-configuration IPv4 number, which will look something like For Wi-Fi, you want the IPv2 Address, which will look something like
Next, open the Libraries window on your PC, where you’ll see Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos folders, along with any other library folders you may have created. Choose a folder to share by right-clicking on it and choosing Share with > Specific people.
On the next File Sharing window, it’ll ask you to type a name in order to choose people with which to share the folder. Type in Guest and click the Add button, and you’ll see a user by the name Guest gets added to the list under the owner of the folder (which is the name of your Windows user account for your PC). The default permission level is Read, but you’ll need to change it to Read/Write. Lastly, click Share and click through two more screen and then grab your Mac.
Before you attempt to link up to the shared folder you created on your PC from your Mac, there are two settings to check on your Mac. First, in System Preferences, in the Internet & Wireless, click on \”Sharing\” and make sure File Sharing is checked in the list on the left. Next, in Finder preferences, make sure “Connected servers” is checked.
On your Mac, open Finder and from the Go menu, click the bottom entry, Connect to Server. In the Server Address field, type in smb:// and the IP address that you jotted down of your Ethernet or Wi-Fi network and then click the Connect button. (For example, smb:// On the next window, choose Guest instead of Registered User and click Connect. It’ll ask you to choose a volume, which you can leave as is and click OK. A window will open on your Mac with a folder titled with your Windows PC’s user account name. Open it and you’ll see any of the libraries you had set up as shared folders.
The beauty of this method is that it’s a two-way street. A shared folder lets you grab files from either your Mac or your PC. Not only does it make transferring files from an old machine quick (especially via Ethernet) and easy, but it also creates a useful repository for a small office that has some workers on Macs and other on PCs.

There are a number of ways to migrate your information from one platform to the other. Whether you use Apple’s Migration Assistant, an external drive or thumb drive, or shared folders, we suspect you’ll find the process easier than you anticipated. The more you’ve come to rely on cloud computing, the less local data you’ll find you have to move.

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