How to share files between an Apple Mac and a Windows PC the easy way

How to share and transfer files between an Apple Mac and a Windows PC. Sync folders, access files over the network or the internet, and more.

Apple Macs and Windows PCs are very different computers and if you need to share files between them, how do you go about it? It turns out not to be that hard. Here are your options.

I will be using a MacBook running macOS Sierra and an HP laptop running Windows 10. Older operating systems should work, but the newer they are, the easier they are to connect.

Connect a Mac to a PC with a LAN

If you have a Windows PC on the same home or work network as your Mac, you should see it appear in the sidebar in Finder windows. If it is not visible, go to Finder, Preferences and select the Sidebar tab. Tick all the items in the Shared section.

Click the Windows PC in the sidebar and it might say Connecting. However, you will probably need to click the Connect As button in the top right corner.

Select the option to connect as a registered user and enter your name and password for an account on the Windows PC. Tick the box to remember the password if you want to make it easier to log in next time. Click Connect.

Connect a Mac to a PC to share files over a network

The C:\Users folder opens on the PC and you can then open the folder for the account you logged into. This provides access to all the files in the account including the desktop, downloads, documents, pictures, music and so on.

Showing the files on a Windows PC from an Apple Mac

You have read/write access to the account's personal folder.

Sync folders on the Mac and PC

Online storage services like Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox, Box and others are a great way to transfer files between Macs and PCs. Just install the app on all the computers you use and whatever files are put in one folder appear on all the other computers.

With files that are a few megabytes, the transfer is as fast as you can walk from one computer to another. I can put a bunch of files in Google Drive on my Mac, walk to my PC, which isn’t far away, and by the time I have sat down the files are on the disk.

Google provides 15GB of storage space for free, whereas Dropbox only provides 2GB, however, there are ways to earn more free space and I have 9GB free.

Get the Google Drive Mac App from google.com/drive/download/. It creates a folder within your home folder that is a mirror image of everything stored online at drive.google.com and on all your other Macs and PCs running the Drive app.

The Google Drive app on the Apple Mac in the menu bar

A very useful feature of online storage services is that the the remote computer does not have to be switched on. You can access all the files and when the computer is booted up, it syncs all the changes, such as new and deleted files.

I recently looked at Tonido, which is a free service that enables you to create your own cloud storage system. This also has sync clients for Windows PC and Apple Mac. It enables you to keep folders in sync on Macs and PCs, but without giving control to a third party. There is no online storage, just storage on your own computers.

Access a PC through OneDrive

There is a Microsoft OneDrive app for the Mac that syncs a folder on the Mac’s disk with the same folder on other Macs and PCs. However, there is a way to access the files on a PC without installing any software.

Recent versions of Windows have OneDrive built in and it automatically syncs a folder on the PC’s disk with OneDrive online storage. If you go to onedrive.com in a browser you can access the files, upload or download them, delete them, rename them and so on. The changes are mirrored on the Windows PC.

There is a way to gain access to the whole disk drive on a PC and even any USB drives that are plugged into it, NAS drives and so on.

First you need to tweak OneDrive’s settings on the PC. Right click the OneDrive icon in the taskbar on the PC and select Settings. Tick the checkbox, Let me use OneDrive to fetch any of my files on this PC.

Set OneDrive on the PC to allow access to all files on the disk

On your Mac, open a browser and go to the onedrive.com website. Click PCs in the sidebar and then click the Windows PC you want to access. Scroll down to the bottom, below the OneDrive files and folders, and the PC’s disk drives are listed. Click a drive to open it, such as C:\. You have access to all the files on the disk.

Access files on a PC's disk through OneDrive

Use a thumb drive

A thumb drive or USB flash memory drive is a simple way to transfer files from one computer to another.

They come formatted with the FAT filing system because it works on all operating systems and computers. If you need to reformat a thumb drive on a PC or Mac, always select the FAT file format.

One slight problem with thumb drives is that when files are deleted on the Mac, they are placed in the Trash. This is a hidden folder on the drive. It slowly fills up with deleted files and the only way to recover the space is to empty the Trash on the Mac.

Alternatively, if you show hidden files in Explorer on the PC, you can see lots of hidden Mac files. Delete them to recover lost space.

 

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