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Connecting Mac OS X to Windows PCs

by Wei-Meng Lee and Brian Jepson

Mac users often have to share files with Windows machines, both at work and home. Occasionally, using portable media such as a ZIP disk or a USB portable storage does the job nicely, but for daily use a cross-platform network is more robust. Apple has incorporated technologies into Mac OS X that allow easy file sharing among platforms. And with the release of Mac OS X 10.2, networking became even easier.

In this article, we'll discuss how you can share files between your Mac and Windows machines and explore how Windows applications can be run on Mac OS X. All the examples in this article have been tested with version 10.2.1 of the operating system.

Systems Configuration

I have an eMac and a Pentium 4 PC (a HP notebook). I used an Ethernet cable to directly connect the two machines. The nice thing here is that I can use a straight cable to connect both machines, and my eMac is able to automatically detect that it is connecting to a PC. There is no need for a cross cable here.

Viewing PC files from a Mac

The first thing I want to try after connecting my two machines is to enable file sharing. On my PC, I created a folder and share it using the share name MacShare. On my Mac, I want to be able to access the shared folder. To connect to the shared folder, select Go from the Finder menu and click Connect to Server.

Screen shot.
Figure 1. Connecting to the server (PC) containing the shared folder.

You should be able to see the PC name displayed as shown in Figure 1. Select the PC and click Connect.

Screen shot.
Figure 2. Viewing the shared PC folder on the Mac

You will be prompted to enter the credentials to log on to the PC (domain/workgroup, username and password).

If the connection is successful, you will see the share icon as shown in Figure 2.

You can now browse the folder as though it is a local drive.

Viewing Mac Files from a PC

Because Mac OS 10.2 (Jaguar) contains a built in SMB/CIFS Server (Samba version 2.2.3a), viewing Mac files on the PC is straightforward. You can use your Network Neighborhood to view the shared folders on your Mac. To do that, you need to turn on the Windows File Sharing on your Mac (as shown in Figure 4), and check the Allow users to log in from Windows option (see Figure 3). If the account you are setting is yourself, you need to type your password into the Current Password field before you can change the checkbox.

SMB stands for Server Message Block. It's a lightweight protocol designed to allow the sharing of files and printers in a small network. SMB has since been renamed to CIFS, or Common Internet File System. Mac OS X 10.1 contains only the SMB client, and thus you can only use SMB to browse for files on the PC, and not vice versa. Mac OS X 10.2 contains both the SMB client and server, and hence PC users can browse for files on a Macintosh. For more information on SMB and Mac OS X, please see the Mac OS X and SMB HOWTO.

Screen shot.
Figure 3. Allowing Windows user to see the shared folder for a particular user account in Mac OS X.

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