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Networking between Mac and Windows

We all know about the large gulf that often separates users of different computing platforms. Mac users dis Windows users and vice versa, and who can stomach those Linux users? Just joking! But I’m here to show you how we can all just get along, at least in a Mac and Windows shared network environment.

It used to be that adding a Mac to a Windows network was a difficult process that would cause the IT people to roll their eyes and groan. Going the opposite direction was similarly problematic; people with lots of Mac networking experience found dealing with the PC’s very frustrating. With modern Mac OS and Windows systems, networking them is a piece of cake.

The two computers need to be physically networked together; this can simply be a single Ethernet cable (modern Macs can autodetect whether the cable is a crossover cable or not, you can use either) connecting them, a more complex network with a hub or a wireless network. For detailed instructions on networking see AppleCare Document number 106658 “How to Create a Small Ethernet Network.” in the Support section of Apple’s web site (

Once the computers are networked, Mac OS X 10.2 (aka Jaguar) makes it easy to network your Mac with your Windows XP system (this works with Windows 98 or higher, but my direct experience is with XP). First, you need to turn on Windows File Sharing in Mac OS X. To do this, open the Sharing Preference Panel in the System Preferences application (from the Apple menu select System Preferences). Under the ‘Services’ tab check the box next to ‘Windows File Sharing’ (Fig 1). When you highlight this selection you will see some instructions at the bottom of the panel describing how you connect to your Mac from Windows. This same panel is where you can turn on Printer Sharing. On my system, I found that the Windows File Sharing would not stay on unless I locked the settings by clicking the Lock icon at the bottom of the preference pane.

Fig. 1

You will also need to select the ‘Accounts’ preference panel, select the account(s) you want to have access from Windows and click the ‘Edit’ button. After you enter your password you need to check the box that says ‘Allow user to log in from Windows’ (Fig 2). For more information about this procedure check out AppleCare Document 107083 “Mac OS X 10.2: How to Set Up Windows File Sharing.”

Fig. 2

In Windows XP you need to go to the Control Panel and select ‘Network Connections.’ Follow the instructions in the ‘New Connection Wizard’ to share files and printers.

This setup works great for me. I have three Macs (two on Jaguar and one legacy Mac clone running Mac OS 9.1) and one PC running Windows XP (Fig 3). I routinely share files between my XP computer and my desktop PowerMac G4. All of these computers share a broadband Internet connection (Southwestern Bell DSL) using a Linksys EtherFast Cable/DSL router.

Fig. 3

Not all Mac users have made the leap to Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar yet. If you are running Mac OS 9 or earlier you can still have a mixed network environment, but you will need some additional third-party software. You have two basic options for full networking, either Thursby Systems’ DAVE ($149, or Miramar Systems PC MacLan ($199,

Thursby Systems’ excellent DAVE installs on your Mac and puts an icon in the Chooser that lets you access PC networks through standard TCP/IP. DAVE allows bi-directional file and printer sharing and since it does not install anything in Windows so you don’t have to deal with any Windows configuration hassles.

The other popular choice is Miramar Systems’ PC MacLan. This software installs Appleshare networking protocols in Windows, basically putting your PC on a Mac network. This solution also offers bi-directional file and printer sharing, but since it installs in Windows and not on your Mac you may need to know something about Windows networking to troubleshoot any installation weirdness you may encounter. The nice part about this solution is that if you are familiar with Mac networking it makes the whole configuration on the Windows machine much more like what you are used to.

Both of these programs also work with Mac OS X and can enhance Jaguar’s native Windows networking. You can download demo versions and try both of them before you decide to buy one.

Keep in mind the limitations of working in a cross-platform environment. Many file types are usable on both systems. Standard formats like TXT, MP3, JPG and TIF are usable by lots of programs. Applications like Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop create native files that are interchangeable between platforms. Programs like Intuit Quicken and QuickBooks Pro have very different formats on different platforms and you may need to use a conversion utility to get them to work. In any case, you will not be able to use a Windows program on your Mac (or vice versa) simply because they are networked. Since the code is entirely different, you will need the appropriate version, Mac or Windows, for the platform you are on. If you want to use Photoshop on both systems, you will need to purchase two copies of the program, one for Mac and the other for Windows.

A great resource for people in a mixed computer platform environment is the excellent MacWindows web site (

Paul Vaughn is a freelance graphic artist, writer and web designer. Paul has been a PC user since 1986 and a Mac user since 1990. He can be reached at You can view reprints of his Graphic Guy and Mac Guy columns at


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