Tutorial #1: Using a Mac with a Windows pc

This post is about getting started: moving your files to the Mac (and back), sharing hardware, and running Windows applications on your Mac.

Sharing input devices between a Mac and Windows (or Linux) PC

I like working on my Mac, but I still have many things that I need my Windows pc for, so I dedicate a single monitor to each on my desk. I switch between OS X and Windows constantly, but I don’t want to keep two keyboards and two mice on my desk.

One solution is to use a KVM switch. A KVM switch is a gizmo that allows you to switch your Keyboard, Video and Mouse between two computers. But we already have two monitors, and so there is a free software option: Synergy. Synergy allows you to share input devices and clipboards between two computers, kind of like two monitors connected to a single computer.  Get it for for Mac, Windows, and Linux.

After you install Synergy on both computers, you need to set up one computer as a client and the other as a server. I use my Windows PC as the server, since it’s always connected. LifeHacker has some detailed instructions for setting it up.

Sharing and synchronizing files between a Mac and a Windows PC

If you’re like me, there are some files you want to have copies of on both Windows and Mac, and some files you want to keep on one PC and access from both. For example, I want to take my music with me but also want to be able to play at home. I have a huge photo collection that requires my Windows-licensed editing software, so I keep that on my PC. I also have my work files, which I keep on a portable hard drive, so I can access them on any computer.

To share files:

First, get both computers online on the same network. Second, enable file sharing in OS X and Windows XP or Vista. When specifying the folder to share, I shared the home folder of my respective Windows and OS X user accounts, which gave me access to my music, docs, etc. Now, you can easily copy files and directory from one computer to another. I suggest you map the Mac share as a drive in Windows. In OS X, you can select Go -> “Connect to Server” and then type “smb://PCNAME”, where PCNAME is the Windows computer name (Computer->Properties) to mount any of your shares in Finder.

To keep files in sync:

There are many neat OS-X exclusive tools for editing music (more on that in a later tutorial) so I want to be able to edit my music and synchronize it back to Windows, including any moved and deleted files. Furthermore, I want to synchronize just the changes, without having to delete my Windows version and copy everything every time. The best tool I’ve found for doing this is Microsoft SyncToy. It’s Windows-only, but you can use it to synchronize folders either way. There’s an outdated tutorial on this at LifeHacker, but I suggest you try all three synchronization options, and use the “Preview” option before every sync to verify that it’s doing what you want.

Share a backup drive:

You have automatic backup enabled on all your computers, right?  Right? Backing up your Mac is very simple: just pick a destination for your backups and enable Time Machine. In my case, I have a shared external drive I use for several Windows computers as well as my Mac.  Time Machine requires a natively formatted partition, so I had to shrink the NTFS partition in Windows, create an empty volume for the Time Machine partition, and then format that partition with Disk Utility to be a native OS X volume.  Now I can use a single drive for all my Windows and Mac backups.

Accessing your files remotely from another computer:

A great free tool for accessing your files from your Mac/Windows remotely is another Microsoft product – Windows Live FolderShare. It works quite well with both Windows and OS X, even behind firewalls. You can set up synchronized folders, or just browse the entire file system on the web.

Running Windows (and Linux) apps on a Mac

There are three ways you can run Windows applications on a Mac:

· Use Boot Camp to install Windows on a dedicated partition and rebooting to switch operating system.

· Run Windows in a virtual machine application such as VMware or Parallels. You can use both with your BootCamp partitions, so you don’t need to keep two installations.

· Run Windows apps natively with Wine. Wine is a compatibility layers that allows you to run most Windows applications at full speed. I use the commercial product CrossOver for Mac, but you can also use the free Darwine. (Get the latest unofficial build of Darwine.) Using the unofficial TriX add-on that comes with Darwine, you can add native Windows components to Wine, increasing the range of the Windows applications you can run.

Viewing Windows files on OS X

OS X does not support Windows Media files by default, but there is an easy fix for that: Flip4Mac ads Windows Media support to QuickTime, and the VLC media player will play pretty much everything else you’ve got. While you’re on the Microsoft website, you may want to get Microsoft Remote Desktop for OS X, so you can connect remotely to Windows pc’s.

Using the Apple Keyboard in Windows and Logitech keyboards/mice with OS X

I have an Apple Keyboard which I occasionally use with Windows, so I got AutoHotKey and cobbled together an autohotkey .kbd script to remap some of the keys in Windows to their usual positions on a Windows keyboard.

I also got Logitech Control Center for my Logitech keyboard and mice – unfortunately it only recognizes one of my two mice.

2 thoughts on “Tutorial #1: Using a Mac with a Windows pc”

  1. Nice run down of thoughts on the co-habitation of platforms. I just got an 8 core, and am sorting out how to do some of the same. Mostly I will live in the Mac realm for Final Cut and Flip4Mac Episode encoding, etc.(actually, I just heard that they will have a windows version of Episode soon)…… but, right now I have some audio sampling software that runs on windows, and I’ll probably need to cross over with Parallels.

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