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Summary:

Today it’s the foundation for all modern pre-installed Windows systems. It replaced the aging FAT (File Allocation Table) file system with a leaner, meaner standard. It’s more secure, more flexible, and has more built-in gadgets than a Swiss Army Knife. It’s NTFS, of course — the […]

ntfs-for-mac-box-shot

Today it’s the foundation for all modern pre-installed Windows systems. It replaced the aging FAT (File Allocation Table) file system with a leaner, meaner standard. It’s more secure, more flexible, and has more built-in gadgets than a Swiss Army Knife. It’s NTFS, of course — the New Technology File System.

I grew up with NTFS. I was there when it was introduced with Windows NT, and I insisted on reformatting every Windows machine I ever got my hands on — wiping out stuffy old FAT32 — with a file system so much more capable and pleasing. Yeah, OK, I was total nerd about the whole thing, I know.

So it came as something of a surprise to me that I didn’t think about file systems when I was switching to the Mac. And I didn’t think about file systems when I took a terabyte hard drive from my old PC and put it in my Mac Pro. And I didn’t think about file systems when I first clicked around that drive’s contents in Finder.

I did think about file systems when I tried to save changes I made to an old document that migrated to my Mac along with the drive. I was rewarded for my Saving efforts with an unwelcome dialogue telling me I couldn’t write to the drive. And then the penny dropped. My big, new shiny Mac Pro was using HFS+ while that second HDD was formatted with NTFS. And then I had to go and have a lie down for a bit due to an acronym-induced headache.

You’re unlikely to have experienced this access problem unless you have an external drive you like to use for both a Windows machine and a Mac.

Until Apple gets around to building full read/write compatibility into its operating system (and let’s not forget Snow Leopard is right around the corner) we have to find third-party solutions that cajole our hard drives into getting along with each other. One popular (and free) solution is NTFS-3G: a reasonably simple, though somewhat fiddly, application that requires users mount their NTFS drives/partitions in order to have full read/write access to the data stored therein. This can become cumbersome if an external drive is improperly unmounted on another machine. It’s not impossible to fix, mind you, but not effortless by any means.

If you need a simpler solution that offers transparent, and deceptively native, interoperability with NTFS formatted drives, you could try Paragon’s venerable (though horribly named) NTFS for Mac OS X 7.0 (or NTFSMOSX7 as I shall now refer to it because that string of characters is marginally less cumbersome than the full name).

NTFSMOSX7 is a small download, at a little under 3 megabytes and, once installed, ticks away in the background. There’s no user interface or settings to tweak. This really is nothing more than a driver.

If you buy the full version of the software, the download will undoubtedly be larger, since the paid-for app includes Paragon’s MacBrowser software for Windows. I might have tested MacBrowser for the purpose of this review, but Paragon never responded to my emails requesting more information, so if you have used it, and have an experience to share, please add a comment at the end of the article.

The only real problem I had once the hard drive was once again mine to use and abuse, was a conspicuous lack of Spotlight functionality. This is because, by default, Spotlight doesn’t index NTFS volumes. It’s not impossible to do, but it’s also not easy to achieve. The Spotlight preferences panel is typically spartan, so it’s necessary to bypass the Spotlight settings GUI and get your hands dirty in a Terminal session.

For those of you interested, by the way, the syntax for manually adding an NTFS volume (or any volume, for that matter) to Spotlight’s index via Terminal goes like this:

sudo mdutil -i on /Volume/VolumeName

Once entered, Spotlight will begin indexing your volume, which means it’s time for you to go watch some “Galactica” or “Big Bang Theory” while you wait.

A lot has been made of the apparent (and the not-even-remotely-important) differences between NTFS and HFS+. While HFS+ was ahead of the game at a time when too many Windows users were still mired in FAT (no jokes, please), NTFS was, and remains, a sophisticated file system. In fact, it bests HFS+ in many ways. Overall, though, is it better? I don’t know for sure, and I suspect for 99 percent of everyday users the question “who cares?” springs to mind.

Sidenote: Exuberant Apple supporters — aka Wailing Fanboys — muddy the waters with their auto-hate for anything not intrinsically Apple, claiming time and time again on discussion boards that “NTFS sux.” Occasionally, a particularly tech-savvy zealot will talk about comparing streams and counting data forks and probably even get into a debate over which Enterprise Captain is the best.

None of that matters so long as you can access your data quickly and painlessly, and, at least on the Mac, NTFSMOSX7 makes that possible. If you have to use NTFS volumes regularly but can’t reformat them to use HFS+, the $40 asking price for NTFSMOSX7 is perhaps not so steep in return for the convenience of seamless data interoperability. If, on the other hand, you want occasional quick-and-dirty access to an old NTFS volume and the ability to write data to it is not a serious concern, $40 is much too expensive for what amounts to a simple driver, and I’d suggest you stick with a free alternative.

You can try NTFSMOSX7 free for 10 days by downloading it from the Paragon web site. You can see which Enterprise captain is superior by clicking here.

  1. I’ve had very good success with the open-source NTFS-3G driver running under FUSE: http://www.ntfs-3g.org/

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  2. I should mention NTFS-3G have done great work recently with handling not properly mounted drives – much better than six months ago.

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  3. Nice write up. Like Andrew Bednarz commented above, I have also had very good success with the NTFS-3G running under Mac Fuse. Maybe I would be willing to dish out some dough for a more sophisticated NTFS adaptor for the Mac if I had to interface with NTFS more often.

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  4. NTFS is certainly outdated.

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  5. IdleWanderlust Monday, May 25, 2009

    “Until Apple gets around to building full read/write compatibility into their operating system (and let’s not forget Snow Leopard is right around the corner) we have to find third party solutions that cajole our hard drives into getting along with each other.”

    By this statement alone it shows that you don’t know what you are talking about. The reason Apple does not have read/write access to NTFS is not because apple does not want to include the ability it is because MICROSOFT DOES NOT ALLOW ANY OS other than Microsoft’s own OS’s to read/write to it. This is why MacOS, UNIX, LINUX, SUN, etc will not write with out a third party solution. You might want to look into things before you write such nonsense. You do not need a third party solution to write to NTFS over a network share however.

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    1. you may want to check your facts. Linux can read and write to ntfs fine. This is especially true of ubuntu.
      it is apple that is behind the times.

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  6. My problem is similar, would appreciate comments. My first computer was a PC, and I have a stack of CDs written from the system, which was Windows 98. The PC is gone, and now I have a Macbook, but it doesn’t recognize the CDs written on the PC. I’d like to recover the data, but haven’t found any freeware or payware solutions.

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  7. @max31. strange. i have all kinds of PC written CDs and they are readable? Have you tried inserting them into a windows box to see if you can read them there?

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  8. Vanni. The screen message I get says the disc I inserted isn’t readable from the computer. The CDs were readable on my Presario just fine, and they were readable from an external drive that I later bought for it, but they were probably not written to be good on both PCs and Mac machines.

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  9. Hi IdleWanderlust,

    I’m not sure why the unbridled bitterness from you? Seems you have a wee chip on your shoulder, sir? In any case, Microsoft *does* allow other OS’s to natively leverage NTFS compatibility if (and only if) the relevant licenses are acquired. Apple obviously aren’t in a hurry to pay Microsoft for licensing NTFS functionality in Mac OS, but we can always live in hope!

    There is a strong argument that a licensing deal of this kind would be in the best interest of both companies; but I shall leave that to another article you might want to summarily rubbish at a later date! :-)

    Thanks for reading!

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