Macs and PCs play remarkably well on the same networks these days. Both support the necessary interoperability right out of the box. But when it comes to the details of the connectivity, that’s where people sometimes get lost. After all we’re talking about two very different platforms in terms of connectivity and security. For all of their similarities, the two platforms are still really quite different.
We’re about to detail the ins and outs of inter-platform connectivity. In this case we’ll be connection to a Mac running OS X 10.4 from a Windows XP box, and conversely we’ll connect a Windows XP machine to a Mac. While this post details Windows XP, Windows Vista will operate in much the same way.
Connecting a Windows XP Box to a Mac Share
We start on the Macintosh. First pull down the Apple menu, select System Preferences, and click on Sharing. Be sure to enable the Windows Sharing service. Once it is activated, the accounts allowed access to the service must be selected. If not promoted to specify the permissive account instantly, just click the Accounts button and select one or more usernames that will be allowed access to file shares hosted on the Mac.
Notice the message at the bottom of the window that explains the path that Windows users will use to access the file share. Of particular note here is the computer’s IP address. In this case, my computer’s IP is 10.0.1.100. Its an internal virtual IP that is generated by my broadband router.
For all of the complexities involved, we’re actually nearly done. That’s all it takes to activate Windows compatible file sharing on the Mac. Now we switch over to the Windows XP box and take a look at one of several different ways to access the file share from Windows.
There are ways to browse network shares using what Windows refers to as My Network Places. Give it a shot if you like. The icon is either located on the XP desktop, or in the Start Menu. I tend to avoid the method since Windows sometimes has a difficult time finding shares as the appear on the network. At the same time, it also seems to have difficulty realizing when the shares are no longer available.
As a result, I prefer a more direct approach. Simply select the Run option from the Windows Start menu. A dialog like the one above will open. Then, just enter the address of the remote computer that the XP box is supposed to connect to. In this case it’s the Mac’s IP address preceded by two backslashes: 10.0.1.100. Then just click OK or hit the return key.
If the remote computer is indeed online at the specified IP address, Windows will display a login prompt like the one above. Here we enter the username and password that would normally be used to login to the Macintosh’s user account. There is an option to allow Windows to capture the login and let the user avoid the password prompt in the future.
Once we clear authentication, we see a list of file shares on the remote Mac. In this case we see a share called smanke. This is actually my home folder on my Mac. Inside that directory are all of the files located in my user directory on the Mac. At this point I have gained access to all of my personal files- my desktop, documents, movies, music and more.
Connect a Mac to a Windows XP Share
Connecting to a Mac share from XP should be equally as easy. In short, its not. I’m not going to point fingers, just take a look at the following steps and it will become painfully apparent which platform turned to process into a 10 screenshot process.
First we switch to the XP box and browse the hard drive. Locate the directory to be shared and right click on it. Select the Sharing and Security option and the window below will appear.
If the XP box had not been configured to share its folders or printers, the Shared File Properties will look as shown above. Before the folder can be shared, the sharing services must be configured and activated. Click on the text link titled Network Setup Wizard.
I’ve shortcutted the lengthy setup wizard for reasons on simplicity. Rather than show every single screen in the process, I have opted to omit any step that served no configuration purpose. When the Select a Connection Method screen appears, be sure to select the second radio button specifying that the current network is behind a router.
The only important field here is the computer’s name. It must be a name that will be unique on the network.
Windows still requires that the PC be a part of a specific Workgroup. If there are other Windows boxes on the network, make sure the existing Workgroup name is entered here. If there are no other Windows boxes on the LAN, select something safe like HOME or OFFICE. Anything will work actually.
This seems like an odd specification to make at this late point in the wizard, but it finally gets around to asking whether the sharing features should be on or off. Obviously we want them turned on.
Here’s the fun screen we get to watch while XP makes the necessary low level changes. Its interesting that it takes the Mac about 1 second to activate Windows file sharing but XP takes over a minute.
This screen is a holdover from the days when sharing files and printers was even more convoluted than it is today. Just select the last option so we can get on with life.
This last screen goes back on my plan to only show relevant screens that showed selections vital to the configuration process. But after such a long run of configuration screens, I though it might be nice to see what the finish line looked like.
The kicker here is that we have only activated the XP machines sharing features by this point. Now, once more, we need to browse back across the hard drive and find the folder we originally wanted to share. Again right click on the directory and select Sharing and Security. The Shared File Properties window will appear. Simply check the box beside Share this Folder on the Network and we’re finally done on the PC.
When we configured file sharing on the Mac, Apple’s developers were helpful enough to provide the Mac’s IP address and some basic instructions right at the bottom of the sharing window. No such logic was used by Microsoft engineers so we’ll have to dig into the computer to find its IP address.
The easiest way to find the IP address is to once again select the Run option from the Windows Start Menu. This time enter CMD into the field and click OK. This will bring up a black command line window. Simply enter the command ipconfig at the prompt and hit return. The screen will shoot out some useful information like the image above.
In my case, my XP box has a special virtual network adapter called Hamachi. Ignore that information. Most machines will have a display of network information relating to either its wired of wireless network adapter. In my case, the second set of information shows my wired Ethernet adapter. Here we see that the IP address of my PC is 10.0.1.101. Make note of that as we’ll need it in a little while.
As described in the first stage of this post, there are several ways to browse the networks file shares. On the Mac, there is an option on the left side of every Finder window in OS X 10.4 called Network. Clicking on it will browse the network. The odd part here is the way the computers are displayed. There is often a strange array of bizarrely named folders denoting virtual separations on the network. I prefer to cut through all of this.
If we know the IP address of the XP box, there is a direct way to connect. Just hit Apple+K in the Finder, or select Connect to Server from the Finder’s Go menu. This brings up a screen like the one above. Simply enter the IP address of the XP box preceded by smb://. On my network, my XP box has an IP of 10.0.1.101 so I have entered: smb://10.0.1.101. After that, just click Connect or hit the return key.
If the user account on the Mac and the PC have the same credentials, a screen like the one above will show a list of available shares on the Windows box. Just select the share and then OK. The Windows share will mount on the Mac desktop and can be used as expected.
If the user accounts differ between the two boxes, an authentication box will appear like the one above. The Workgroup will likely already be supplied. Just enter the login information for an account that exists on the XP box and proceed to login. Once in the previously shown list of file shares will be displayed.
One of the nice features found in 10.4 is the ability to store the file share login in the Mac’s Keychain. Selecting this box makes it easier and faster to connect to the same remote machine in the future.
All things considered, the process really was simple. There might have been a few more steps involved that one might expect from a pair of mature operating systems, but to be fair only one of them made things more difficult than they needed to be.
We now have the ability to share files equally between a Mac and a Windows XP machine. But now that Window Vista has shipped, some might want to connect a Mac to Vista. Rest assured, the process to share files on Vista might offer a slightly different wizard but the concept is still the same. And for a Vista user who wants to connect to a Mac file share, its nice to know that the process is exactly the same. Using the Run command to connect to the Mac via its IP address works just fine.
UPDATE 6/5/07: 5:55pm
For those interested, I just put up another post detailing how activate, disable, and add rules to both Mac and Windows software firewalls. Checkout the post here.