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Mac 101: Moving files from your old PC to your new Mac

A friend asked how to get her music, photos, and documents from her PC to her new Mac.

There was actually a "Get a Mac" ad about this called Off The Air. In the commercial, the services was described as being free. I called Apple and was told that yes this is still available and free -- but I think the person I spoke to was wrong. Apple's "Why Mac?" FAQ says that this is now part of the One to One service, which is $99 and only available when you buy a new Mac. Apple also has an article entitled Switch 101: Migrate Your Files or Your Windows System which is also designed to help.

If you can't use One to One, option number two is to copy files from your PC to an external hard drive, connect that drive to your Mac, and move the files over. If you already have an external hard drive, this is a great idea. Even if you don't have one, it would be a good idea to invest in one so you can later use it for Time Machine.

Option number three is to copy files over a local network. This has the advantage of being free, assuming you already have a local network setup.

Read on for instructions on moving files over your network...

So let's get started copying files over a local network from a Windows PC to a Mac. (Note that these screenshots in the gallery below were taken on Windows XP Pro. It may look a little different on other versions of Windows. I believe that Windows XP "Home" had more limited sharing features, but I don't know much about specifics.)

OK, so what we're going to do is fairly simple. Here are the steps that go with the screenshots in the gallery.

  1. On the PC, go to My Documents in the Windows Explorer, right click and then select "Properties" as shown here.
  2. Click the box next to "Share this folder on the network". Again, this is XP Pro, so the specifics may be different, but the idea is the same. In a typical home network situation, this is fairly safe, although I would not suggest it in another setting. Choose a name for the folder (I went with "Windows Files"). Note that I did not check the box to allow network users to change my files. Adds a little bit of protection against accidentally deleting files.
  3. OK, now go to your Mac, and in the Finder, select Go » Connect to Server or press command (⌘) plus K.
  4. This is where it gets a little tricky. You can click the "Browse" button and see if your Windows computer shows up. Mine did not. The PC that I was trying to connect to is named "Office" (If you are not sure what your PC is called, go back to the PC, right click on "My Computer" and select "Properties" and then click the "Computer Name" tab. You want the "Full computer name.") Note that you should add ".local" to the computer name when entering it on the Mac.
  5. I was asked to login to the PC. Use your Windows login name and password. (Check the box to Remember this password in my keychain.) Note: if you don't see this window come up, it probably means that the computers can't see each other, or the name in Step 4 was wrong.
  6. You will be presented with all of the available Shared Folders from the PC. Select "Windows Files" or whatever you chose in Step #2 above.
  7. Voilà! Your Windows Files are now available on your Mac. Select the folder you want and drag to your Mac and it will copy over the network. My suggestion is to break it into smaller parts. If you have 100GB of pictures or music to copy over, separate it into different folders. That way if you do get an error, you won't have to start over from the very beginning.

Note that this is just going to move your pictures, music, documents, but won't copy playlists from iTunes. You'll have to recreate those on the Mac.

I haven't used the "One to One" service myself, but if you live close to an Apple Store and are switching, I would highly recommend it, especially if you aren't 100% comfortable with computers. $100 is not much to pay for a year of training and tech support.

I am also assuming we are talking about more than 2GB of data. If it is less than 2GB of data, the answer is simple: get a free Dropbox account, install Dropbox on your Windows computer, and then on your Mac, and all of your files will be synced between them. Over 2GB and you'll have to pay Dropbox on a monthly or yearly basis. If you are going to do this sort of file sharing a lot, I'd look at Dropbox for doing this, even if you do have to go to a pay level for it. But my assumption is that this is a one-time "get my files off my PC onto my Mac."

Good luck with your new Mac! You may want to browse through our Mac 101 posts to help you get started.

Here are the screenshots that go with the 7 steps listed above:

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