Get Leopard and Windows to play nice

Mac OS X and Windows machines don't get along, right? Wrong. Try our tips for cross-platform happiness on your network.

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Sharing files

Mac OS X Leopard supports a number of different protocols for accessing shared files. The primary or native protocol for Mac file sharing is Apple Filing Protocol (AFP). This protocol has been developed and refined by Apple over many years.

Like SMB, HTTP and other common protocols, it is built on the same TCP/IP protocol suite that powers the Internet. Although some third-party software allows Windows computers to communicate using AFP, it is generally considered a Mac-specific protocol.

In addition to AFP, Macs come with the ability to access shared files on Windows PCs and servers using SMB (as described above), thanks to Apple's implementation of Samba, an open-source version of SMB for Unix and Linux operating systems.

With the exceptions noted above in terms of specifying a NetBIOS name and workgroup, there is nothing special that needs to be done to enable Macs to access files and folders being shared by Windows. In fact, Macs will typically be able to see Windows PCs and servers out of the box.

If you want to share files on your Mac with Windows computers via SMB, however, there are a few extra steps to take. First, you will need to enable file sharing using the Sharing pane in System Preferences (as simple as checking the File Sharing checkbox in the list of sharing options).

Then you will need to explicitly choose to share those files using SMB by clicking the Options button. You can choose to share files using AFP, FTP (File Transfer Protocol) and SMB.

File sharing, Mac OS X Leopard System Preferences

Configuring file sharing.

Click to view larger image.

If you choose SMB, you must also specify which users will be allowed to connect to the Mac remotely. This is because AFP and SMB differ in the encryption technologies used to store and transmit user password information over a network.

SMB supports a range of encryption mechanisms, some of which are specific to earlier versions of Windows and are less secure than the mechanisms used with AFP or with Windows XP and Vista. Thus, you must choose to allow each user's password to be stored in the appropriate formats when you enable SMB support.

Note: Leopard also supports sharing files using FTP, a platform-agnostic protocol that can be accessed using any computing platform and an FTP client. However, FTP does not encrypt user password data or files as they are transferred.

Sharing printers

In addition to sharing folders and files with Windows computers, Leopard can provide shared access to printers. The process of enabling printer sharing for Mac users is fairly simple.

Printer sharing, Mac OS X Leopard System Preferences

Selecting a printer to share.

Click to view larger image.

Enable printer sharing as a whole by selecting the Printer Sharing checkbox in the Sharing pane of System Preferences. Then open the Print & Fax pane in System Preferences, select the printer that you want to share in the Printers list and select the "Share this printer" checkbox.

The only other thing you need to do to share a printer with Windows computers is to be sure that SMB file sharing is enabled (as outlined above), and the printer will be shared using SMB.

When Leopard and Windows coexist on a single Mac

There are now a range of options for running Windows and Windows applications on a Mac. The primary choices are Apple's dual-boot option Boot Camp, which comes free with Leopard and works with any Intel Mac, and the virtualization tools Parallels Desktop for Mac ($79.99) and VMware Fusion ($79.99).

Sun's open-source VirtualBox is a free virtualization option that is beginning to gain popularity despite entering the game well behind the commercial options and offering more limited and less polished features -- for instance, VirtualBox lacks DirectX support for Windows.

While the following tips aren't full-scale guides to any of these products, they do address some common pitfalls.

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