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Mac hints and tips

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Connect to Windows PCs Part 1 (10.4/5)

If you have more than one computer you will want to exchange files between them, such as documents, photos or videos. A network makes this easy and with wired and wireless networking hardware built into modern computers as standard, you have probably have everything you need to set up a local area network (LAN). With a LAN you can connect to another computer to exchange files or to use a big hard disk as extra storage space or as a media server?

It should be quite straightforward to connect to another computer on the network and it often is. It is particularly easy to connect your Mac to another Mac or a Windows PC to another Windows PC. What isn't so easy is connecting a Mac to a Windows PC to exchange files or to access it's disk.

Click the desktop to make sure Finder is the current application and then select Go, Network. You will see the networked computers that you can connect to listed on the Finder window. Just double click a computer to view the files and folders that are stored on it.

It really can be this easy, but maybe it depends which way the wind is blowing, or it only works when a full moon coincides with particularly severe sunpot activity, because more often than not you won't see any Windows PCs in the Finder window. You'd think Apple and Microsoft could get together and sort this out wouldn't you?

If you are having problems connecting to or even seeing a Windows PC, you should turn off all the security on both the computers and see if it solves the problem. Firewalls are desiged to hide computers and prevent connections, so it's best to temporarily disable them and get the connection working. Then when you know the network is OK, you can add the security.

On the Mac, click the Apple logo in the top left corner of the screen and select System Preferences. Click Security (OS X 10.5) or Sharing (OS X 10.4) and select Firewall. Select Allow all incoming connections (OS X 10.5) or turn off the firewall (OS X 10.4). Click Show All and then click Network. Select the network connection you are using (AirPort, Ethernet and others are listed), and click the Advanced button. Select WINS and then enter the workgroup name in the box provided. Many Windows XP PCs default to MSHOME and Windows VIsta defaults to WORKGROUP, so try these two first. Workgroups are used to organise computers into groups and you can only see and access other computers in the workgroup you are connected to.

Restart after changing the settings and see if the Windows PC shows up when you select Go, Network in Finder. If you're lucky, and it does seem to be down to luck, you'll see the Windows PC in the Finder window and you can open it to access the shared folders on its disk.

If you find that you can connect to computers when security is turned off you'll know that the problem is with the security software on either the Windows PC or your Mac. Usually it is the firewall that is blocking connections.

Connect to Windows PCs Part 2 (10.4/5)

If you have been trying to access a Windows PC from your PC by browsing the network using Finder and you haven't had any success, there is a quick, easy, and more reliable way to connect. It's actually very easy, but you do need one vital piece of information.

Computers on a network are assigned numbers called the IP address. Every computer has a different number and this is how information travels from one computer to another. A packet of data contains the IP address of the computer it is to be delivered to and networking equipment forwards it to the right computer.

You need to know the IP address of the Windows PC that you want to connect to. You may know this already, but if you don't, you can find out or even guess. Many computers have an IP address like this: 192.168.1.X where X is 1, 2, 3, 4 and so on. If you're at home with a router (wired or wireless), the router will be 192.168.1.1, the first computer will most likely be 192.168.1.2, the second computer will probably be 192.168.1.3 and so on.

Connect to a Windows PCTo see your Mac's IP address click the Apple menu at the left side of the menu bar and select System Preferences. Click Network, Advanced, TCP/IP and you'll see the IPv4 address. To see the IP address on a Windows PC, double click the network icon at the right-hand side of the taskbar and the address can be found on one of the tabs.

OK, now you know the IP address of the Windows PC, make sure Finder is selected (click the desktop) and choose Go, Connect to Server. Enter smb://192.168.1.4 or whatever the IP address is for the Windows PC. A Finder window will open and you'll see the shared folder(s) on the Windows PC.

Can't connect to another Mac? (10.4/5)

All the information in the tips above applies and turning off security software like a firewall will help you to solve connection problems. If you cannot connect to another Mac the problem may not be security though and it may simply be that the Mac is not sharing anything. You have to tell the Mac to share files and folders otherwise no-one will be able to connect to it.

OS X file sharingClick the Apple logo in the top left corner of the screen and select System Preferences. Click Sharing and then make sure that File Sharing is ticked. With File Sharing selected in the list, on the right is a list of shared folders. You should find that your Public folder is shared by default, but if the list is empty (or if you want to share other folders), click the plus button and select a folder. Don't share folders containing personal information or anything that other people can mess up, like the whole hard disk or the Applications folder. Choose one like the /users/shared folder.

To the right of the Shared Folders list is the Users list, which determines what users are allowed to do. For example, you'll see an entry called Everyone and if you click it you can set the permission to Read Only, or Read and Write. It's up to you whether you want to allow others to save files on your Mac's hard disk drive. Read Only is the safest option, but Read and Write lets other people transfer files to you.

If you cannot connect to another Mac using Finder, Go, Network, click Go, Connect to Server. Enter afp://192.168.1.2 or whatever the IP address is of the Mac you are trying to connect to. On the Mac you're trying to connect to, select System Preferences on the Apple menu and choose Sharing. Check that File Sharing is enabled and there are one or more shared folders. When file sharing is on, you'll see some text that says something like "Other users can access your computer at afp://blah blah". This is what you need to type in on the other Mac to establish a connection.

Connect to a Mac from a Windows PC (10.4/5)

Connecting to a Mac from a Windows PC is very similar to connecting to a Windows PC from a Mac and you should read the tips above. In theory you should be able to click Start, Network and see the Mac listed among the other Windows computers on the network. Double clicking the Mac's icon should open an Explorer window to show the shared folder on the Mac's hard disk drive. However, things are rarely this easy.

A much more reliable method of connecting to a Mac to access shared folders and files is to click Start, Run and enter \\192.168.1.2 or whatever the IP address is of the Mac you are trying to connect to. A double slash on Windows tells Explorer to look for a networked computer and the IP address tells it which one you want to connect to. An Explorer window will open to show the shared files and folders.

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