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Access Mac-Formatted Drives from Windows


MacDriveBoot Camp facilitates reading your Windows partition data when you’re booted under OS X. But what about seeing the Mac drive when you’re booted under Windows? Take a look at Macdrive.

When evaluating this product Murphy found a number of uses. Boot Camp is an obvious one. But it can also read your external drives formatted in some flavor of Mac file system. Including iPods. If you want to ferry files between computers using external drives, this could be the way to go. Keep in mind, MacDrive doesn’t change anything about your Mac-formatted drives, it’s a Windows application. So those external drives will only be accessible from Windows if MacDrive is installed on the Windows PC. If you want to access your iPod’s drive from ANY computer running Windows, reset it under Windows. That will format it as Fat32.

Like lots of software, it’s easy to get hooked on MacDrive. You’re booted under Windows and the file you thought was on your thumbdrive isn’t there? Grab the copy on your OS X desktop, right from the My Computer window. Without MacDrive you’re looking at reboot, copy file, reboot. Ouch.

MacDrive provides a read-only mode. Use it if you can. When you’re booted under Windows your Mac partition is susceptible to all the graft Windows attracts. The read-only mode applies to all your drives. Perhaps a future release will allow setting it drive by drive.

File permissions go out the window too. File permissions are what stop you from accessing home folders on your computer belonging to other users. But only OS X pays attention to OS X permissions. When you’re booted under Windows the permissions are meaningless and you can browse through all the folders on the Mac partition.

This is why physical security is so important on any computer. Once a drive is mounted in a system you control, the unencrypted contents can be read, regardless of permissions. The same applies to dual-boot machines.

For true security your data should be encrypted, which is different than setting permissions. Read up on File Vault, a tool for truly securing your home folder. If you don’t want to encrypt your entire home folder, which could be overkill, consider putting sensitive files in an encrypted .dmg file.

From Murphy’s point of view, MacDrive is essential for someone frequently jumping between Windows and OS X. Especially with a dual boot machine. Watch the screencast to see Macdrive in action.

And, as always – Back up early and often.

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22 comments to “Access Mac-Formatted Drives from Windows”

  1. anyone know if there is a program that will allow a windows formatted drive to work with an iBook G3?

  2. It seems like exactly what I want right now, except that if I try to access my home folder all I can see is the FileVault .sparseimage file. MacDrive doesn’t appear to recognize this kind of image :(

    Is there a way around this?

  3. intepid –

    I don’t use Fire Vault but from what I understand your homedir gets stuffed in an encrypted dmg. Windows is in great need of a dmg viewer! I’m guessing your’e out of luck – but you could check with the people at Macdrive (MediaFour). They’re pretty responsive.
    Maybe a future version of Macdrive?
    The screencast was done with version 6 but they’ve since released 7 which includes support for Vista.

  4. MacDrive does mount dmg’s quite happily, but it does seem I’m out of luck with the sparseimage files… I’ll contact and ask anyway, thanks :)

  5. Well, that’s another reason to use Macdrive! I’ll have to try that out.

    Btw – I followed the link to your site earlier and saw your “gripe” list for OS X. I’d agree with almost all of it. It took me a while to get used to some Mac stuff, like the Return key for renaming files.
    So now I like using Return to rename files – but I don’t like Command+down arrow to open them!
    In your comment thread people were suggesting all these add-ons to get the functionality you want. I know it’s my own personal issue, but I don’t like adding all this stuff. Especially for things that could easily be part of the OS – like 4 draggable corners on every window.
    I generally only turn to shareware when the built-in options have been exhausted or they just don’t work well enough.

    Thanks again for the tip.

  6. Hi,

    Is there any way I can read an encrypted sparseimage file in windows, I tried TransMac but it says “encrypted sparseimage not supported”.
    My mac machine is burned, the HDD is safe and I am able to browse all the partitions and files stored using TransMac except for this particular sparseimage which I locked in FileVault.

    Thanks in advance

  7. I’ll email you…

  8. Dear Murphy,
    is there any chance to find out the way how can I attach the encrypted sparseimage in Vista/XP ? My Mac is dead, but i’d like to get back my data from the sparseimage.

    Can you help?

  9. I got burned bad by MacDrive. It defaults all your DVD drives to Mac format without warning. That makes your computer only occasionally incompatible. When you unsuspectingly try to install a “dual format” disk, like Turbo Tax, the install fails. No autorun or setup.exe can be found on the disk, except on a computer without MacDrive. You work though all the installer and registry Windows fixes without help. The real culprit is MacDrive.

    Here’s a fix:

  10. Hey Murphy, Datomast, CJ or anyone: any chance you could email me with your fix for this. I have exactly the same problem as Datomast, quoted below. Thanks

    Is there any way I can read an encrypted sparseimage file in windows, I tried TransMac but it says “encrypted sparseimage not supported”.

  11. Hey there,

    I have the same problemes like Musomy.

    No mac anymore and an encrypted sparseimage :-(

    Please help.

    Thanx in advance.

  12. MacDrive didn’t work for me either. Have a large 2TB external Maxtor drive that was formatted under Mac OS. Plug it into PC running Vista 32-bit, it will not show as a drive letter. It does show in “Safely Remove Hardware” and also in Drive Manager as unformatted. Installed MacDrive, it can’t read the drive either. Plug it back into the Mac, shows up just fine.

    MacDrive didn’t work as advertised. It wants me to format the drive that has all my data on it.

  13. Hi Murphy

    I appear to have the same issue as everyone else, pulled data off now destroyed ibook and only have windows laptop at home and in the office.
    Any help in accessing recovered sparseimage file from windows based pc would be greatly appreciated. would rather not have to buy an apple notebook just to access all my old photos!!

    Many thanks


  14. Hi Murphy,

    I’ve noticed that the Windows side won’t recognize Mac Aliases, and the Mac side won’t recognize Windows Shortcuts. Is there a fix for this?


  15. Hey there,

    last week had disastrous hard drive crash on my mac.

    Luckily I made daily and weekly backups on an external drive with Mac Backup, so I have all my data safely backed up till the day the hard drive died out on me.

    However, I am currently using a windows (XP) notebook, waiting that my company gets a new hard drive for me.

    The problem is that in the meantime I’d like to get my data back, but Backup stored it in .spareseimage files, which I am sure are easy enough to open on a Mac, but I can’t find a way to open them on Windows.

    Already tried Macdrive /MacDrive 7, but it does not open .sparseimage files… any ideas?

    Mail me back,

  16. I need help, I’m using a macbook pro, I partitioned it and installed a Windows 7, now I can’t access the OS X, it doesn’t show up in the start-up page. Can anyone help me?

  17. Hi Murphy,
    Have the same problem with trying to ready .sparseimage files on a PC Notebook using Vista.

    Old iMac crashed(probably the motherboard) and took the hard drive out and trying to read the hard drive on the PC.

    Mac Drive doesn’t seem to be working that well

  18. Hi Murphy, I have the same problem as most other commenters… perhaps you or someone else could give an indication in the comment thread of how to access an encrypted sparse image under windows? Thanks in advance for the help.

  19. Hi, I’m having the same problem as most people on here – I can’t access my encrypted sparseimage on my PC. Any help would be greatly appreciated!


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