So you’ve just bought an Apple Mac after years of using a Windows PC. Congratulations. Welcome to the party! You’re a little late but it’s great in here so bring in all your stuff.
Actually that’s a little unfair. Mac users have a tendency to look down on Windows, but Microsoft is a big part of the computing landscape that you’ll always have to be a part of. Fortunately it’s usually pretty easy to move files from a Windows PC to a Mac; and also in the other direction.
Almost all the common file types are interchangeable between a Mac and PC and most of the key software programs come in Mac and Windows versions. So it’s usually just a case of getting the file from the one machine to the other.
Transferring files manually from a PC to a Mac
Perhaps the easiest way to move over your files is to attach an external USB hard drive or thumb drive and drag the files. While it’s a bit laborious it’s generally a less technical approach and there’s less to go wrong.
See: Hard drive reviews
Make sure the hard drive is formatted using the Windows NTFS or Fat32 format systems. This is because an Apple Mac can read the Windows file system, but not the other way around. Most hard drives are pre-formatted in a Windows format but you can use Disk Utilities Erase Disk function to format the drive (make sure it hasn’t got anything on it you want to keep).
Drag your images, music files, photos and documents to the hard drive and transfer them to the Mac’s hard drive. You can add photos direct to iPhoto or drop them into the Pictures folder. Videos go in the Movies folder; general files in Documents and so on. Note that if you’re using a hard drive formatted to FAT-32 you might find it can’t copy files larger than 4GB (some high-def movies are bigger than this).
A thumb drive is typically an easier way to transfer the files but they’re smaller so you’ll have to transfer files in small chunks. But it’s an easy way to share files back and forth.
See also: Create a solid backup plan
Turn the Windows hard drive into an external drive
If you’re more comfortable opening up the PC then another option is to invest in a hard drive caddy. Strip the hard drive from your PC and insert it into the caddy, then attach that to your Mac. You can copy the files across as needed and either re-insert the hard drive back to the PC or keep it as an external drive and get files as you need them.
Using cloud services to transfer files
Cloud services are a great way to share files from one machine to another. Apple has its own iCloud service, but you’re better off using some of the other services because they work better between Mac and PC.
See: Up close with iCloud
The biggest name in cloud services is Dropbox, but if you’re new to file sharing then you should either use Google Drive: this gives you a great 15GB of free storage but you get 100GB additional storage for just $4.99 (£3.25) per month. Or you can get 1TB of cloud storage for $49.99 per month (£32.25). While this seems extravagant it compares pretty favourably to a 1TB external hard drive, so you can buy the 1TB for the first month then drop back to a free or more reasonably priced plan.
Transferring files using a cloud service like Google Drive couldn’t be easier. You simply install the software on Mac and PC and drag the files you want into the Google Drive folder on the PC, the files will be uploaded to Google Drive’s cloud storage service. Then they’ll be downloaded automatically to the same folder on your Mac: simply move them to where you want them.
Use iTunes Match to transfer music
Another good option for transferring files is iTunes Match. If you have a lot of music on your Windows PC you can subscribe to iTunes Match (£21.99 yearly) and this will match all of your music files with those on the iTunes Store. You can then play music right from iTunes on your Mac, and download all the music files. Plus it’s a great service for listening to music for the next year. Note that this only works for music, not movies or other files managed by iTunes.
What about Windows files that don’t work on a Mac?
As we said earlier, most files from the PC will work on the Mac. But there are a few files that won’t work. In this case you have a few options.
Convert the files. For file formats that aren't cross platform, you can use Dataviz's MacLinkPlus for Mac to convert files. Or convert/export the data from individual programs on the PC and use one of the transfer processes (cloud sync or USB drive) to transfer the files.
Install Windows. If you have a program on the Windows PC that can’t export files to a compatible format, and you really need to keep using. Then you can install Windows as a second operating system on the Mac. You can either use Disk Utility to partition your hard drive, and then Boot Camp to install windows; or you can use virtualization software like Parallels Desktop to install Windows and run it from inside your Mac. Note that you’ll need a Windows installation serial number to install it on your Mac, and if you’re using Boot Camp then it’s a lot easier with the Windows disk and a Mac with an optical drive.