Accessing Data From A Mac Hard Drive In Microsoft Windows

by on November 20, 2007

Q: I have an external hard drive that was formatted with a Mac. I downloaded music to it. I had to turn the Mac back in to school and my PC won’t read the music on the hard drive. What can I do?

A: The easiest solution is to find a friend who owns a Mac with OS X to help you. You can then:

  1. Transfer your music to your friend’s Mac
  2. Reformat your external hard drive as an MS-DOS File System (also know as FAT). Do this by going Applications => Utilities => Disk Utility => Erase.
  3. Transfer your music back to your external hard drive.

If you don’t have access to a Mac, you can still transfer your files to your PC using a Ubuntu Linux LiveCD. Ubuntu Linux is an operating system, like Windows and OS X. But thanks to the LiveCD, you can run Ubuntu on your computer without actually installing anything! The LiveCD for Ubuntu 7.10 is able to read files from hard drives that have been formatted in HFS+ (Journaled), the default disk format on Macs today. The Ubuntu LiveCD should also be able to write to NTFS and FAT hard drives, the two most popular formats for Windows XP hard drives. Other Mac formats appear to be supported too. Here’s a procedure for you:

  1. Download the Ubuntu 7.10 LiveCD. This will be saved to your computer as an ISO file. Simply burning the ISO file to a CD will not work! Instead, you must burn the files that are stored within the ISO to a CD.
  2. Microsoft Windows does not support ISO files without help (Mac OS X and Linux do). To get Windows to support ISO files, install a free program like Infra Recorder. Some versions of Nero, a program that is often bundled with new Windows-based PCs, also supports ISO files. Consult an article called BurningIsoHowto for further details.
  3. Put the LiveCD into your computer’s CD-ROM drive and restart your computer. The CD should run automatically as your computer reboots. Select Start or Install Ubuntu. Don’t worry! Ubuntu Linux will not install anything onto your computer unless you select the install option from the LiveCD’s desktop.
  4. Once the LiveCD has finished loading, connect your external hard drive to your PC. It should appear on the desktop screen.
  5. Look at the top toolbar. Go Places => Computer. You should see your Windows hard drive. Go inside it and choose a folder for your music. You should be able to create a folder if you wish.
  6. Drag your music from the external hard drive to the Windows hard drive.
  7. Restart your computer using the red button in the upper-right corner of your screen, remove the LiveCD, and log into Windows. Confirm that your music has been transferred successfully.
  8. You may wish to reformat your external hard drive for use with Windows-PC. You can accomplish this by right clicking on the external hard drive in My Computer. If you plan to use the external drive with Windows 2000/XP/Vista, NTFS is probably the choice for you. Managing FAT hard drives can sometimes be difficult, so chose FAT only if you must.

You are now armed with two solutions to your problem. Good Luck!