Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sharing Volumes Between Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux

As anyone who's read this blog for awhile knows, I use a couple of different laptops.  My primary machine is a Macbook Pro running Mac OS 10.6.2, while my secondary machine -- Hobbit -- is an MSI Wind netbook, currently running Windows 7 Ultimate.

The Mac is owned by my employer while I own the Hobbit.  Since I use the Mac for personal purposes as well as work-related tasks (which is OK with my employer) I needed to have a reliable means of backup in the event I change jobs.

On my desk at work I have a Lacie Quadra drive which I use for Time Machine backups over FireWire 800 (it also supports FW400, USB, and eSATA).  It would be pretty easy to restore my data from it to a personally-owned Mac.  However, getting that data onto a PC would be a real chore, requiring the use of a Mac as an intermediary.

I also wanted a portable means of backup that would work with either machine and that wasn't dependent on a network which might not be available.  I might also need to access my data using a Linux system.  The cheapest means of doing so is a USB hard disk.

The USB disk I chose is a Western Digital Elements 640 GB USB 2.0 Portable External Hard Drive WDBAAR6400ABK-NESN.  It's a 2.5" drive in a plastic external case.  It's bus powered, so no external power supply is required. Compared with the FW800 connection on my LaCie, or even a FW400 connection, USB 2.0 is noticeably slower for sustained transfers.  However, this isn't much of an issue once the initial sync is done.

One problem you run into when sharing disks between Windows and either Mac OS X or Linux boxes is the NTFS file system.  Linux has its own filesystems.  Macs use HFS+.  PCs use NTFS.  Mac OS 10.6 includes read-only support for NTFS.  Windows 7 cannot read HFS+ disks without third party software.

Luckily, there are solutions for sharing an NTFS volume between a Windows machine, and a Linux or Mac OS X machine.  Th one I picked is called NTFS-3G and is available in a higher-performance, proprietary version, as well as a free open source version.  As described in Wikipedia, "NTFS-3G is an open source cross-platform implementation of the Microsoft Windows NTFS file system with read-write support."  NTFS-3G is availabele for OS X, Linux,

I installed the open source version of NTFS-3G on my MBP and so far it's worked very well.  I have'n had problems syncing data between the Mac and the WD disk using CronoSync.  Likewise, I am able to sync the WD disk to Hobbit, using Microsoft's free SyncToy.

Now I have a backup which I can share between my Macs, Windows and Linux boxes.  That's pretty handy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I too use ntfs-3g. It works like a charm. I put it on the Linux boxes I admin, that way I can read the backed files on external hard drives (formatted as NTFS) on either Windows PCs or on Macs (that also have ntfs-3g on them).