Mac unable to write to a NTFS-formatted (PC) hardisk

One of my students was unable to format her new (250GB) external disk on Windows XP. So she brought it in for me to try with her PC and eventually I managed, after consulting the Cutie (drive enclosure) manual. I was surprised at how unclear it was in Windows – it required two distinct non-intuitive steps with no prompts after the drive was connected.

We intend to exchange large files with that external hardisk so I need both my Mac and her PC to be able read the file. In order to do this, I need to format it as a FAT32 (MS-DOS) drive. But I was unable to do so on her XP PC. This is because “the format program included in Windows 2000 and higher can only create FAT32 file systems of 32 GB or less.” – Wikipedia.

OS X’s Disk Utility can format external drives
as MS DOS’ FAT32 and partition-free too!

I could have used Mac OS X Leopard to format the disk though but didn’t. Instead I selected the only option in her PC format program – NTFS (New Technology File System), the standard file system of Windows NT, 2000, XP and Vista.

However, while Mac OS X Tiger and Leopard (at least) can copy files off an NTFS disk, they are unable to write to one. It dawned on me that this was the explanation for my puzzle with PC using students – the disk they gave me mounted, I could see their files, but a drag and drop copy attempt onto their NTFS disks failed. I usually then try some kind of work around, which is fine for one-off situations.

Well, there is a solution? Laurence, who was on IM with me the whole time and just as puzzled, sent me this link: Paragon Software’s US$40 NTFS for Mac OS X. There is a 10-day trial but it’s inevitable I will be getting this.


  1. Solutions include the geeky MacFuse as suggested in this gantico post.
  2. It gets better – read about the GUI version provided by MacFusion!
  3. I realise I may have tried this for read/wrie desktop access for FTP disks!
  4. After reading that entry and The Elder Geek, I’ve decided it’s better to leave my muddy student’s external hardisk formatted as an NTFS volume. Even though it will not be recognized by Windows 95/98/Me, NTFS appears to be more reliable, less susceptible to fragmentation and will allow for better file recovery.
  5. I’ll not be abandoning FAT32; its what all my thumbdrives are all formatted as.
  6. Must allocate time to try this in the morning.