Simple ways to switch from a PC to a Mac

My parents have had a Windows PC for many years but I’ve finally talked them into buying a Mac. The problem is they expect me to move their data from the old PC to the Mac. Do you have any recommendations for the best way to do this?

It just so happens that I performed this very task for my aunt just last weekend. And performed it successfully, I might add.

There are many ways to do this-some free (depending on the gear you own) and others not quite as free.

If you have a spare external hard drive with a USB interface you can use it to copy your parents’ files from the PC to the Mac. First, format the drive so that it can be used on the PC. To do so, plug the hard drive into the Mac, launch Disk Utility (found in the Utilities folder), select the drive in the left pane of the Disk Utility window, click the Erase tab, from the Volume Format pop-up menu choose MS-DOS (FAT), and click Erase.

(And yes, this will erase all the data on the drive so be sure there’s nothing on that drive you want.) With the drive formatted for Windows, unmount it from the Mac, plug it into the PC, and copy the files you want from the PC to the hard drive. Unmount, drag it back to the Mac, plug it in, copy from hard drive to Mac, done.

This is a fine solution if you know where to find all the files on the PC and have the patience to archive email message, export bookmarks (termed Favorites in Internet Explorer), and sift through this corner or that to ensure you have all the files you need before setting fire to the PC.

If you’re without an external drive you can create a quick-and-dirty network between the two computers by stringing an Ethernet cable between them, switching on file sharing, and copying the files from Computer A to Computer B. Doing so requires that you know something about file sharing on both platforms (online help on each computer will explain how) and, again, you’ll need to know where to find the files you’re after.

A less-free-to-the-tune-of-$50 option is Belkin’s $50 Switch-To-Mac Cable. This is the solution I used because I had one and wanted to see how it worked. I’m pleased to say that it was a breeze. The gist is this:

You install Belkin’s software on both the Mac and Windows PC (OS X 10.4 or later and Windows XP or Vista required). For the most part, the Mac software does the work. There you tell the application the kinds of files you want to copy from the PC to the Mac.

You can choose music, photos, email, contacts, calendars, documents, wallpaper, and Internet Explorer Favorites as well as the contents of the PC’s Desktop and the contents of a folder you’ve chosen.

Once you’ve set up the software, string the included cable between USB ports on each computer (transfer will happen more quickly over a USB 2.0 port on each computer but it works with USB 1.0 on a PC too). Then tell the Mac version of the application to work its magic and it does so by copying files from the PC to the Mac.

It doesn’t just fling files into a folder on your Mac but rather files them where they should be. Your Desktop files, for example, appear on the Desktop of your Mac in a folder labeled with the name of your PC. Music files are moved directly into iTunes. Photos are copied to iPhoto.

Favorites become bookmarks in Safari. Outlook mail is shuttled to Apple’s Mail just as Outlook’s calendars appear in iCal and addresses show up in Address Book.

For a one-time job I can see how this $50 solution might be a little off-putting but, Great Googly Moogly, it is slick and easy.

Were I required to do this thing more than a handful of times, I’d consider it money well spent. (Or I might just demand the necessary $50 from a relative or friend who requested my help for this kind of operation.)

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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