Networklovers Tips: Linux, Windows and Mac PCs on the Same Networks


The vast majority of computers in the world’s homes and offices run Windows. However, humankind does not live by Windows alone. Apple’s killer combination of top-notch hardware and a secure, stable, feature-rich operating system in OS X has convinced many Windows users that the modern Macintosh is a superior system for various uses. And with its open-source underpinnings and seemingly endless array of free software, Linux is attracting the attention of more nongeeks.

 Unfortunately, sharing files, printers, Internet connections, and other resources on machines running Windows, OS X, and Linux isn’t always easy. The following tips will help you get these operating systems to play nicely with each other.

First, update your software. For example, early versions of Mac OS X (up to and including 10.2) let you connect to Windows files and printers, but only with major coaxing. Later versions of OS X use Windows’ Server Message Block protocol to facilitate connecting to and sharing with non-Macintosh PCs. In several important ways, however, OS X’s support for Windows’ shared resources remains broken (find workarounds for OS X version 10.4.2–the most recent, at this writing–on the next page).

Like OS X, Linux supports Windows-style sharing through SMB. Though there are many versions of Linux with varied graphical interfaces, for this column I tested SuSE Linux 9.3 (the latest version) with the KDE 3.4 graphical environment. SuSE is one of the easiest Linux distributions to configure and use.

Tweak Your Share Settings

Windows: Sharing files and printers on Windows XP systems is disabled by default in Service Pack 2, but enabling this feature is pretty easy. Right-click My Network Places, choose Properties, right-click the network connection through which you want to share files, select Properties again, check File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks, and click OK (see FIGURE 1

FIGURE 1: Set XP to share resources on the local network with a couple of clicks.). Now your Windows XP system can share files and printers–all you have to do is tell it what to share.

To share a folder (and its files and subfolders) with other computers on the network, right-click it in Windows Explorer or any folder window, choose Sharing and Security, Sharing, and check Share this folder on the network. To allow people using other computers on the network to alter or delete the files, check Allow network users to change my files. Then click OK. To allow other computers on the network to use a printer connected to your PC, click Start, Printers and Faxes, right-click the printer (or fax modem) that you want to share, choose Sharing, select Share this printer, enter a name for the printer in the text box, and click OK.

Macintosh: To share your Mac’s files and printers with other computers, launch Sharingin System Preferences, select Services, enter a descriptive name for the computer in the Computer Name field, and check Windows Sharing. To share your Mac’s Public folders only with other Macintosh computers, check Personal File Sharing instead. If you’d like to specify the printers you want to share, open Print & Fax in System Preferences, check Share these printers with other computers, and select the appropriate printers.

OS X’s default file-sharing security is tighter than Windows XP’s. To connect to a shared file or printer, you need to enter the user name and password of an existing account on the OS X computer. If you are accessing your Mac’s resources from a non-Mac PC, just use your usual OS X log-in from the non-Mac system. But if you’re creating a share for others, you may prefer to protect your own account by creating a separate Mac account for them (click Accounts in System Preferences to do so). To enable Windows Sharing for a specific account, open Sharing in System Preferences, click Accounts, check the account you want to enable, enter its password, click OK, and then click Done.

If you recently upgraded to OS X 10.4 from an earlier version, Windows Sharing log-ins will fail until you reset the account password in System Preferences’ Accounts settings.

Linux: To share files and printers in SuSE 9.3 with KDE 3.4, use the YAST configuration utility. Simply open the program, enter the root password when prompted, select Network Services in the left pane, and click Samba Server. After YAST detects your configuration, enable or disable your preferred shared resources (such as printers and home directories), click the Start Up tab, select OnStart Service when Booting, and click Finish. The next time you boot Linux, your file and printer shares will become available to other computers on the network.

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