Have you ever connected a native Mac drive to a Windows 10 PC? If you do, you will see a scary looking message asking you to format the drive. Why does Windows do that? We’ll explain.
Windows can’t read Mac file systems
There are other options, but first let’s take a closer look at what’s going on.
A tale of two file systems
By default, Windows 10 and Macintosh computers use two different file systems. A file system is a software method that determines how an operating system writes data to (and reads data from) a storage medium such as a hard drive or USB drive.
Windows 10 uses the NTFS file system and macOS currently uses APFS. (macOS previously used HFS+ in macOS 10.12 and earlier.) If you format a drive as APFS on a Mac, Windows 10 won’t read it, because APFS is a proprietary file system format created by Apple.
For example, if you insert a USB drive formatted as APFS or HFS+ into a Windows 10 PC, you will see a warning popup that says “You must format the drive in drive [letter] before you can use it. Do you want to format it?” When you see this message while trying to read a known good drive, always click “Cancel”.
If you click “Format Disk” and continue the formatting process, you will lose all data on the disk! And apparently Microsoft doesn’t mind.
RELATED: What is the difference between APFS, Mac OS Extended (HFS+) and ExFAT?
So why does Windows do? Really Do that?
If Microsoft really wanted it, Windows could try to read your Mac-formatted drives. It might just license Apple’s APFS technology and add it to Windows 10, or at least warn you that you’ve inserted a Mac-formatted drive and explain why it can’t be read.
Instead, Windows 10 pretends your Mac drive is a corrupt or unformatted drive and doesn’t mind if you accidentally format it and lose all your data. “Not my problem!” says Windows. The same goes for Linux-formatted drives, and it’s a common frustration for multi-platform computer users.
In this age of IoT devices and Linux and macOS side by side, why on earth is Windows trying to erase everything it doesn’t understand?
SD cards and external drives are preformatted. What good can come of this prompt?
There isn’t even a way to turn it off. pic.twitter.com/4vm7Moh1eo
— Damien Guard (@damienguard) April 30, 2021
The reason for Microsoft’s user-hostile behavior in this particular case is tradition. Windows has long been the dominant platform for desktop computers, and it can get away with treating foreign file systems as if they don’t exist.
MacOS, on the other hand, can read NTFS-formatted drives (but can’t write to them without add-on software), and it can also read and write the FAT32 legacy Windows file system and Microsoft’s exFAT in a nod to removable drive compatibility between vendors.
RELATED: What is the difference between FAT32, exFAT and NTFS?
Is there a way around it?
If you have data on a Mac drive that you need to transfer to a Windows 10 PC, there are a few ways to work around the problem. Here are a few.
- Transfer the data over a network: You can avoid a Mac-formatted drive altogether and share files over a LAN, send them through a cloud-based backup service like Dropbox, or even email a few files to yourself as attachments.
- Install a third-party tool: Some third-party vendors make utilities that allow you to read Mac-formatted drives on Windows. Linux Reader from DiskInternals is a freeware tool that reads but does not write APFS drives. APFS for Windows from Paragon is a commercial product ($50) that allows you to read and write APFS drives. For HFS+ drives, you can install HFSExplorer, a free utility that reads older Mac-formatted drives.
- Create a disc that can be read on Macs and PCs: If you still have the Mac the disc was written on (and space to back up the data on the disc), you can reformat your Mac drive with the exFAT file system – leaving the disk will be erased, so back it up first – then copy the files back onto the disk. Windows and macOS both fully support reading and writing exFAT drives as it is an industry standard file system for removable flash media.
If you ask us, it’s a thing of the past for Windows to treat other file systems with the respect they deserve. We live in a vibrant, multi-platform world today, and Microsoft’s products should reflect that reality. In any case, Microsoft’s recent embrace of Linux is a good example of how to move forward. In the meantime, resist the urge to reformat and good luck!
RELATED: Read a Mac-formatted drive on a Windows PC