My Turn

Windows PC to Classic Mac File Transfer Using Zip Disks

- 2005.11.21

My Turn is Low End Mac's column for reader-submitted articles. It's your turn to share your thoughts on all things Mac (or iPhone, iPod, etc.) and write for the Mac web. Email your submission to Dan Knight .

Even by contemporary standards, the Macintosh SE/30 is a great machine. Short of a notebook, there are not many computers as compact as the SE/30. With a 16 MHz 68030, 8 MB of RAM, and a 200 MB hard drive, it's far more capable than its specs would have you believe from a modern perspective.

A while ago, I acquired an SE/30 through eBay and installed System 7.5.5, ClarisWorks 5.0, Claris Organizer, iCab 2.0 , Eudora Mail (I access the Internet using a modem), Claris Home Page 2.0, and HyperCard 2.4. I also bought a Wacom graphics tablet in letter-size (the tablet is larger than the SE/30's screen).

This 1989 Mac does about 70% of the things I need (the other 30% - MP3 playback, Flash, video, etc. - are actually not vital for me). I can even connect my Newton 2000 through the Newton Connection Utilities (a funny thought - the Newton 2000 has a far greater clock speed than the SE/30 and nearly as much RAM!), so I have a cheap PDA/computer combo.

Combined with a portable keyboard and a wireless card, the Newton actually replaces a notebook.

Even though the system is rather simple, I actually increase my productivity, since I focus on the task at hand. When writing a paper, I do not get distracted by incoming emails or a supposedly short check up in the Internet that takes much longer.


Unfortunately, I encountered two problems with my SE/30. Some contemporary file formats, like the current Word and Excel formats, cannot be translated by ClarisWorks even though the machine and the OS should be capable of handling them.

The solution is to save these files in an older or simpler format. For text files, I use the Rich Text Format (RTF), and for Excel files I use the Excel 4.0 format. This allows ClarisWorks to import my files.

The second problem is transferring large files to the SE/30, since it doesn't have ethernet. Floppy disks have a ridiculously low capacity. Sending data as emails is limited as well. I thought of buying an old CD-ROM drive, but that would be a one-way data route. I can't burn CDs on my SE/30, so I can only load up data burned on another Mac or PC.


My solution: I bought an old SCSI Zip drive.

My other machines are an aging Athlon PC with a parallel port Zip drive and an iBook G4. Since I cannot connect the parallel Zip drive to my iBook, my first thought was that transporting large files from the PC to the SE/30 via Zips would be simple enough. But I didn't count on the different file systems. Even though the System 7.5 has PC Exchange, it only accepts certain formats, and it can't handle long filenames from Windows.

This spells disaster when transferring downloaded Mac-software from the PC to the SE/30. It just doesn't work.

I found a workaround for this:

  • Using "Disk copy" on my SE/30, I create an 80 MB disk image and copy it to a Zip disk (the Zip disk is in PC format, which both the SE/30 and the Athlon PC can access).
  • I connect my iBook G4 to my PC via a crossover ethernet cable.
  • On my Windows PC, I insert the Zip disk and allowed the Zip drive to be shared by other users without any restrictions.
  • I connect my iBook to the Windows PC through SMB and have full access to the Zip drive. (Unfortunately, the iBook is still limited to the Windows file naming conventions).
  • I access the disk image on the Zip disk and mount it on the iBook's desktop. Then I copy all the files I need to the disk image. After ejecting the image, the data is safe in its original structure on the Zip disk.
  • Insert the Zip disk into the Zip drive connected to my SE/30, copy the disk image to the hard drive (this takes a long time, but it's necessary since disk images can't be mounted from the Zip disk), and mount it using Disc Copy. Now all files are available in their original format and structure, so I can copy them or run installers to my heart's content.

This may sound tedious, but once you get the hang of it, it's quite a good way of doing things. Now TIFF files and Word files too large for a floppy can be copied easily.

Most software packages are very large and would usually be delivered on multiple disks (HyperCard 2.4 is over 20 MB). Now I just copy the files to a disk image and then transfer the Zip disk to the SE/30. Then I mount all install disks with Disk Copy and start the installation. The software is installed without a single disk change, since all disks are open at the same time.

Perhaps it's even possible to circumvent the iBook by using an HFS utility so the PC can mount the disk images. But this is another story that shall perhaps be told another time....

For now my Mac SE/30 is only limited by its component life. Knowing the high level of Apple quality control from the 1980s, it could last quite a while!

is a university student from Austria, works at a research company, and used Macs in the 90s. After spending some dark times as a Windows user, he switched back to Macs in 2003. He has spent far more time using vintage hardware than is usually regarded as healthy - but he still feels great!

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