Living in a Windows World

- 2001.12.05 - Tip Jar

Grumble as they may, most Mac users recognize that it's a Windows world out there. Like it or not, it's up to the Mac users to go more than halfway in coexisting with the majority platform.

Macs can read PC floppy disks and files out of the box, and most Mac users quickly learn that if they're sending a document as an email attachment to a PC user, they had better get in the habit of tacking a DOS-style 3-letter extension onto the file name.

Lots of Mac users, though, need more. In many cases, they would like to connect their Mac to a Windows network to share the Internet, a printer, files, or a CD-burner, either at work or at home.

It can be done, but it takes some effort. Depending on what you want to do, it may require purchase of some additional software, either for your Mac or for the Windows systems.

Share the Net

If all you want to share is an Internet connection, you may be in luck - this can often be done without any extra expense. If there's already Internet connection sharing on the Windows network, your Mac may be able to share it easily by opening the TCP/IP control panel and entering the IP address of your router (or PC that's physically connected to the Internet). OS X users can do the same thing in the Network system preference.

You may need to do some experimentation - try first to configure the IP address using DHCP, which means the address is automatically set by the network. If this doesn't work, try to manually create an address in the same pattern as the ones used by the other machines on the network. (On the Windows machines, you can find the IP addresses by typing IPCONFIG /ALL in the Start Menu's Run dialogue). Make sure that you don't pick an address that is being used by another computer on the network.

Home networks typically use addresses in the range: where xxx and yyy are numbers between 0 and 255. The subnet mask used in most home networks is - this needs to be the same on all machines.

You may also find that to connect to real Web sites, you need to manually enter the DNS or Name Server Addresses. These are the numeric Internet addresses of the server that your Internet Service Provider uses to translate a name like to its real numeric IP address (in this case, Once again, typing IPCONFIG /ALL on a Windows machine should give you this information.

Sharing Files and Printers

Once your Mac is hooked into the local area network and sharing the Internet, a natural extension is to want to share files and hardware like printers. Unfortunately, while Macs and PCs can (more or less) naturally share an Internet connection, this next step is harder. That's because while both Macs and PCs can be set to use the TCP/IP networking protocol, they use different networking clients - the layer in between the networking protocol and the user interface. Macs use AppleTalk; Windows uses Microsoft's Client for Microsoft Networks. (Bet they paid someone a lot of money to come up with that name!)

You can get around this by using FTP (File Transfer Protocol), an Internet standard. There are several popular shareware FTP clients for the Mac, such as Fetch or Interarchy. A quick check at didn't come up with any cheap FTP servers for Mac, but it did locate several free ones for Windows. Setting up an FTP server on a Windows system means that the Mac(s) on the network could log into it and send or receive files.

Nicer, however, would be to be able to let the Macs and Windows PCs see one another as more or less equal partners on the network. That way, sharing files can be more intuitive and flexible.

If your network uses a Novell NetWare, Windows NT, or Windows 2000 server, you can turn on Macintosh services on the server. With that enabled, Macs can log onto the network, save files (which will appear as Mac files), and use shared Postscript printers transparently from the Chooser, just as if it was another Mac network.

NT/Win2000 servers are uncommon in home and small business networks, however. More likely there's a peer-to-peer network, with one or more workstations sharing folders and/or printers. In this case, you may want to consider one of four commercial products.

  • PC MacLan (, US$199) installs on the Windows computers on the network and gives them AppleTalk capabilities. Once installed, they can share files and printers connected to your Mac. Your Macs can read files on the PCs, and, in many cases, print to the PC's printers as well.
  • Dave (, US$149) installs on your Mac (as do all the other products I'm going to discuss). It gives your Mac Microsoft Networking capabilities; in other words, from the Chooser your Mac can connect to Windows computers, accessing shared files and printers. If you turn on Dave sharing, the PCs on the network can access shared files and printers on your Mac. Thursby has just released version 3.1 of Dave, with both OS 9 and OS X capabilities.
  • MacSoho, also from Thursby (US$49) is a simpler product than Dave. It's intended for Windows networks that use the NetBeui protocol. This networking protocol used to be popular, since it didn't require any of the fussing with addresses needed in TCP/IP networks, but since it doesn't directly support the network, it's less commonly found these days. But if you want to add a Mac to a NetBeui network, MacSoho is the way to go.
  • DoubleTalk (, US$99), runs on top of a TCP/IP network, and allows your Mac to access shared files and printers on networked PCs. It is somewhat easier to set up and use than Dave, but less powerful. An especially nice feature is that it integrates your Windows network in the Mac's OS 9 Network Browser.

Unlike Dave, with either MacSoho or DoubleTalk your Mac can see files and printers on the Windows machines, but the Windows users can't see files or printers on your Mac.

How to decide? If you're adding a single (or small number of PCs) to an existing Mac network, PC MacLan is your best bet. If, however, you're adding a small number of Macs to an existing PC network, you want one of the other products. If it's a NetBeui-based network, MacSoho is your only option. If it uses TCP/IP, get DoubleTalk if you don't want to allow PC-access to your Mac, and Dave if you do.

There are downloadable trial versions of all of these products except DoubleTalk.

A couple of things to note:

  • While all of these products promise you can print from shared printers connected to a Windows computer, printer support is far from universal. You can generally print to a Postscript printer on the network, selecting LaserWriter 8 in the Chooser. Support for non-Postscript printers is iffy at best. The new version of Dave promises inkjet support, but I don't know how wide a range of models are supported.
  • If your networked PC has an internal CD-RW drive, you may be able to access it from your Mac if your PC has Adaptec (now Roxio) Direct CD software installed (this is bundled with many popular PC burners). Direct CD lets you format a blank CD disk to use it like a big floppy disk, copying files to it directly. In that case, assuming the CD-RW drive is shared across the network, you can copy files to it using the Mac's Finder. Very cool! However, the resulting disk isn't readable on the Mac. To access it, you need to read it across the network from a PC drive.

What about OS X?

OS X 10.1 includes SMB (a.k.a. Samba) services, an open source standard that allows Unix-like systems (including Linux and BSD, which is at the heart of OS X) to connect to Windows networks for file and printer sharing.

Like a lot of the nitty-gritty of OS X, Apple has not gone out of their way to document this. As a result, unless you're a Unix guru you're probably not going to get much out of this. Currently, Thursby's Dave is the only product with an OS X-native version of their product; it's the easiest way to access files and printers on a Windows network from OS X.

However, you can relatively easily connect an OS X (10.1 or later) Mac to a shared folder on a networked Windows system. To do that, in the OS X Finder, click on the Go menu's Connect to Server item. In that dialogue box's Address field, type an entry in the form: smb://Server_name/Folder_name. For example, I have a PC notebook named "Compaq," which has a folder shared as "download." So typing smb://Compaq/download lets me connect to that folder. When I type a valid username and password (or let the keychain do it for me), an icon for that folder pops up on the desktop. The dialogue box stores a list of servers I have connected to, so the next time I can just choose it from the list.

Perhaps it's not surprising that connecting your Mac to a Windows network is not as easy as connecting a couple of Macs together. However, it can be done, and third-party utilities like Dave or DoubleTalk take a lot of the pain out of it.

If you have both Macs and Windows machines, whether at home or at work, you might as well get them to communicate, share, and play nicely together. LEM

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Alan Zisman is Mac-using teacher and technology writer based in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Many of his articles are available on his website, If you find Alan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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