You’d think that after so many years of PCs and Macs co-existing that they’d be very interoperable.

Not so- and I’ve been struggling trying to set up an external hard-disk drive that I can use on both systems.

Mac prefers its own format (HFS/HFS+), PC would like another (FAT/NTFS). NTFS is partially compatible, but natively, Mac can only read, not write, in that format.

A little research suggested I might be able to use Ext2, a mature Linux format, and install plugins on either machine to handle it. The plan would be to create a three partition drive. A large main partition and one smaller one for each platform onto which I could store Ext2 drivers- so I could travel to any computer with the drive.

I tried three times to create this partition layout on the Mac (I couldn’t find an easy way to create an Ext2 partition on PC). Each time resulted in a system lock after about an hour – with a serious-looking ‘Press the power button on the back of your computer’ dialog that I haven’t seen before. Disk Utility was unable to repair the Ext2 partition.

The eventual adopted solution was to ditch Ext2 and…

  1. Using the Mac’s Disk Utility, I created a two partition drive- with a large PC partition (FAT) and a small MacOSX partition (HTS+ /1GB).
  2. On the PC, I reformatted the FAT partition into NTFS using Control Panel > Administrative Tools > Computer Management > Storage > Disk Management.
  3. I picked up an open-source plugin called NTFS-3G for the Mac. This permits writing to NTFS. There’s a commercial version of the code called Tuxera, but also a free-use one [NTFS-3G] buried away, but available.
  4. I installed the package on the Mac, and also copied it to the Mac partition of the external hard-drive, so I can install it anywhere.

If you do set up your drive like this, make sure you always safely eject the drive before disconnecting it- otherwise the Mac will whinge and you may lose data.

Ebony and ivory living together in perfect harmony. Maybe!