Get Leopard and Windows to Play Nice

Ensuring Access to Mac and Windows Data

Whether you're using Boot Camp or a virtualization product, you'll want to make sure that you have easy access to all your files and folders in both Windows and Mac OS X. But because Mac OS X and Windows rely on different types of formatting for hard drives, that's not always as simple as it sounds.

When Dual-Booting

If you're using Boot Camp, your hard drive will be partitioned, and one partition will be formatted for access by Windows. You'll be offered two formatting options for the Windows partition: FAT32 and NTFS. Mac OS X can read and write to drives formatted using FAT32, so if you use FAT32, you'll be able to access any files and folders on your Windows partition when your computer is booted into Leopard.

However, Mac OS X does not include full support for NTFS. As a result, if you opt for NTFS, you'll have read-only access to your files on your Windows partition when you boot into Leopard, which can be problematic if you need to make changes to a document or want to add, move or delete files.

The simplest solution is to format your Windows partition as FAT32. But it's an older format that does not offer support for file and folder permissions or encryption, which means you have fewer options for securing your data. And with FAT32, you are more likely to encounter problems such as hard drive fragmentation, which can impact overall performance.

Finally, NTFS is a journaled file system, which provides greater error-checking options for the hard drive and reduces the risk of data loss if the computer is unexpectedly restarted.

If you want the advantages of NTFS and full access to your Windows files from within Leopard, you can install an NTFS driver for Mac OS X. There are two main options: MacFuse (a free port of the open-source Fuse tool that allows Linux systems to access NTFS drives) and Paragon NTFS for Mac OS X ($39.95). Both are generally reliable solutions, though Paragon is more user-friendly, particularly for new or nontechnical Mac users.

The issues of accessing your Mac OS X partition from Windows are very similar. Windows does not have any built-in capabilities for reading the most commonly used Mac hard drive format types, which are variations on Apple's HFS+ format (also called Mac OS Extended).

In much the same way that MacFuse and Paragon NTFS allow full access to NTFS-formatted Windows partitions, Mediafour's MacDrive ($49.95) allows Windows to access Mac-formatted drives and partitions, including the partition containing Leopard.

When Using Virtualization

What if you're using a virtualization tool instead of Boot Camp? Unlike Boot Camp's dual-boot approach, which requires restarting your computer to switch between operating system partitions, virtualization tools run Windows alongside Leopard on a single drive. Even so, accessing files and folders created in the other operating system can be tricky.

The primary reason is that by default, virtualization tools rely on a hard drive image to contain your Windows installation and files. The image appears to Windows like a normal hard drive, but on your Mac it appears as a single image file. This can make it difficult to directly access those files from Leopard.

Fortunately, the virtualization tools let you configure shared folders so that a folder on your Mac's hard drive is seen as a mapped drive in Windows. This isn't always the most convenient solution, but it is effective, particularly if you enable your entire Mac OS X home directory (or any commonly used folder) as a shared folder.

Note, however, that sharing your entire home directory with Windows has security implications, as detailed on the next page.

Both Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion also let you drag and drop files to copy them between the Windows hard drive image and locations on the Mac's hard drive.

The most recent versions of Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion include a couple of helpful features beyond shared folders. Both tools offer the ability to use a Boot Camp partition instead of a hard drive image file, which can then be accessed as described above. This means you can easily make use of virtualization with an existing Windows installation that was made using Boot Camp.

In the latest version of Parallels, you can launch a file browser from Leopard that lets you navigate and manage the contents of a virtual machine's hard drive image even if the virtual machine is shut down.

Finally, both tools support a windowless mode (known as Coherence in Parallels and Unity in VMware) in which Windows applications are displayed in the Dock alongside Mac applications. This mode also allows access to files from Mac or Windows applications regardless of whether those files reside within the virtual machine's disk image file or within the Mac's file system.

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