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ATPM 10.02
February 2004




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How To

by Sylvester Roque,

Panther Meets NTFS

Regular readers of this column know that I have been an avid Mac user since System 7 and the LC II. I have even used a few System 6 machines. Unfortunately, I have always attended schools or worked in settings where Mac users were in the minority. That has meant finding ways to make whatever Mac I was using read PC files. In those days, reading MS-DOS disks often required third-party software.

In the 20-year history of the Mac, things have improved considerably. Making use of PC data has gotten easier with each succeeding incarnation of the operating system. By the time Mac OS 9 came along, basic file transfer between the Mac and PC had gotten a lot easier. The OS could read FAT 32-formatted MS-DOS disks and major programs such as Photoshop and Microsoft Office were using many of the same file formats on both platforms. If you had comparable versions of the same program, reading files could be accomplished relatively easily and with minimal loss of data or formatting changes.

All of these changes were great, and those of us who worked in cross-platform environments appreciated all the improvements, but there was still work to be done. You could read FAT 32 volumes with relative ease, but the most recent versions of Windows use the NT File System (NTFS). For a while it appeared as though your options for reading this formatting scheme were setting up a network or go back to the days of third-party software to read PC disks. Well, if that were all there is to this story, I would not be wasting your time.

Normally, I would not worry about reading the NTFS format since my computer at work is still using FAT 32 and most of the data I transfer will fit on a floppy disk. The problem is that my wife’s Windows XP box recently had a near-meltdown. We were left with an external NTFS-formatted drive with 11 GB of data. We did not want to plug the drive into the Windows box for fear that it might fall victim to whatever created the problem in the first place. What were we going to do?

Panther to the Rescue?

A few days before our problem developed, I was making my usual visit to MacOSXHints. If you have not been to that site, check it out. You will be amazed at the tidbits of information found there. During one of my forays there I found out that Panther systems can indeed mount NTFS drives natively.

As you can see from the collection of hints, reading NTFS-formatted drives under Panther is usually easy. Most users can simply plug the drive in question into their Mac and the drive mounts with no difficulty. There is one caveat: Panther mounts NTFS drives as read-only volumes. You will not have write access to the data.

Even though you cannot write new data to this drive, you can move data from that drive to another drive on your Mac. Last month I told you about burning files over the network well as a backup plan, just in case something went wrong. I burned data from the NTFS drive to a DVD without using the network. If you are going to do this, make sure that you burn the DVD in a format that both the Mac and PC can understand. Someday you might want to put that data back on the Windows box.

Sometimes Things Go Wrong

I have tested Panther’s ability to read NTFS drives under both 10.3.1 and 10.3.2. Before you count on it as the only means of salvaging your data, there are some things to keep in mind. The most common problems will usually occur while mounting the drive or while moving certain types of files.

Under some circumstances, Panther may not want to mount the NTFS drive properly. While I had no problems mounting an NTFS drive, other users have reported that Panther sometimes complains about not being able to recognize the drive. In this case, you will be given the option to initialize the drive.

In my testing, I did not have any difficulty getting Panther to mount an NTFS drive, but it did complain at times about file names. Under 10.3.1, I was able to mount the drive and copy files with no difficulty. Under 10.3.2 on a different Mac I got numerous complaints from the OS about file names that were too long or contained illegal characters. Both problems were most noticeable on a series of Favorites created by the PC version of Internet Explorer. The same hard drive and files were used during testing.

Hey, What About Jaguar?

Right about now those of you that have not yet migrated to Panther may be feeling a little left out. Well, do not give up just yet. Even without Panther installed, you may be able to read that annoying NTFS drive. The same hint that told me Panther could read NTFS drives also contained a comment from someone who reads NTFS drives under Jaguar.

I was unable to duplicate this feat under Jaguar during testing. The files would begin to copy and then stop when the process was partially completed. Sometimes the copy process stopped with the usual error message about illegal filenames. At other times, attempting this feat under 10.2.8 led to a kernel panic. In fairness, I must tell you that at about this time I was experiencing intermittent problems with my 10.2.8 installation. This may have affected the results. If you are running Jaguar and are having trouble getting NTFS support to work, check out a small program called NT FileSystem 1.0d2. I was unable to conduct a fair test of this program due to problems with my Jaguar installation, but other users have had success with it.

Closing Thoughts

As you can see from my experiences, some users are having good success reading the NT File System under Panther and Jaguar while other users are having more difficulty. When this works, it works well. When it does not work, I have experienced problems ranging from difficulty reading some file names to the occasional crash or kernel panic.

If you are going to try this with your system you might want to make your initial tests with data that you don’t mind losing until you are sure that the process works. At no point did I lose any data while testing this tip, but why take that chance with irreplaceable information? It is also a good idea to conduct the testing with a stable system. I do not believe this process caused the instabilities that I experienced because the problems were only present in one of the two test systems.

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