A new 1 terabyte drive came in, and I despaired of having to format part of it as Mac, the other for Windows and another for Linux (obviously, I’m stuck between operating systems). A simple solution is to pick one file system–FAT, NTFS, Linux, Mac–and just use that. FAT would have been the natural choice, but there are limits to the FAT file system that limit total size. As a result, I began to seriously consider using NTFS. Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge at the time, Mac could not read and write to an NTFS formatted drive…I was wrong.

One of the real pains in working with USB flash drives–including external hard drives–is having to work within the constraints of FAT formatted drives. FAT32 formatted drives are the most compatible with a variety of operating systems, including Macintosh, Windows, and GNU/Linux. This makes them ideal because it means you can access the information no matter what OS you happen to be using.

NTFS support, however, allows you to have individual files that are larger than what might normally be stored on a FAT partition. Until this evening, I had no idea you could read NTFS on Macintosh systems!

That changed when I downloaded and installed NTFS-3G (free open source) and MacFuse (which I had anyways since I use VMWare Fusion on my Macs). I can now READ and WRITE to an NTFS formatted drive using my Mac SnowLeopard formatted computer…and, I can do the same from UbuntuLinux.

Lots of benefits to formatting an external drive with NTFS, mainly, I don’t have to worry about the file size limit (around 4gigs) for FAT files.

If you have a FAT formatted external drive, you can convert it to NTFS using this command:

To convert a volume to NTFS from the command prompt

  1. Open Command Prompt. Click Start, point to All Programs, point to Accessories, and then clickCommand Prompt.

  2. In the command prompt window, type: convert drive_letter: /fs:ntfs

It works pretty quickly to accomplish the conversion. Once done, I installed NTFS-3G on my Mac, mounted the external USB drive and I now have read/write access! Woohoo!

So, when I reformat that 1 terabyte drive, I’ll be doing NTFS to ensure maximum compatibility.

Update: Although this works to some degree, I’m not sure I’d use it for day to day operations. NTFS-3G is still installed on my Macs but only for occasional NTFS drive access rather than every day.


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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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