6 Free Tools to Make Windows and Mac Play Nice
Stay in sync, share files, even control them both from a single mouse and keyboard
by Kevin Purdy - Over time, Windows and Mac OS X systems have grown to accept each others' place in the average home or office. That doesn't mean there aren't some remaining kinks in sharing files and staying in sync. Here are some free tools that make Microsoft and Apple products just get along.
If you've installed iTunes in Windows, you've already got Bonjour installed, and that helps a lot. If not, go ahead and grab it. It makes printing to a Mac-connected or configured printer easy from Windows, over both Wi-Fi and cable networks. It also helps in subtle ways with sharing data and devices between Mac and Windows systems.
Running both a Mac and PC system from the same desktop? You can control them both from a single mouse and keyboard. Originally, the app that made this possible for non-sysadmins was Synergy, though that project has seen few updates since in some time. A nice, modern update is QSynergy, which has an easy install process, an updated and easier interface, and quite a few fixes and updates to the original. Mastering Synergy-style apps is a book unto itself, but with a few minutes of investigation, you'll find using a MacBook screen as a second monitor, next to your Dell monitor running Windows, eerily comfortable.
When it comes to keeping crucial files, bookmarks, and passwords in sync, there are a range of options -- I'll just share a few that have worked well for me and certain nerdy friends. Dropbox is becoming an all-but-mandatory download for those with multiple systems, and especially for Windows/Mac users. At its heart, it's a simple, no-thought-needed space you can drop files into that you want to grab from anywhere later on. But you can also use it to sync instant messaging profiles, so that your chat logs and user setups on apps like Pidgin and Adium remain the same.
If you're a Firefox devotee, install the newly renamed Firefox Sync, and your bookmarks, settings, passwords, and even the last tabs you were looking at are always in place. For those working outside Firefox, a combination of Xmarks and LastPass should keep you happy on any browser you run.
Finally, poke around your System Preferences (Mac) and Control Panel (Windows), and look for file sharing and network options that open up your systems to each other. Sometimes they're obviously named and described, but sometimes they're described as "Samba" features -- that's just an open-source protocol for connecting to Windows networks without a Windows machine. For a good run-down of pulling off one of the hardest feats, opening a Windows share on a Mac machine, see Gina's how-to guide at Lifehacker.