Windows and Mac OS X use different file systems. Windows uses the NTFS file system for its internal drives, while Macs use HFS+. External hard disks and USB drives are generally formatted with the Windows FAT32 file system for maximum compatibility — most devices, including Macs, can read and write from FAT32 devices.
Some Mac drives may be formatted with the HFS+ file system — some drives marketed to Mac users may even come pre-formatted with HFS+. Windows can’t read this file system by default, but there are ways to read that HFS+ drive from Windows.
HFSExplorer – Free
You’ll probably want to use HFSExplorer for this. Unlike all the other options available here, HFSExplorer is completely free. You can use it to access Mac file systems from Windows without paying a dime.
HFSExplorer does require the Java runtime environment installed. We generally recommend against having Java installed, but it’s necessary here unless you want to spend money. Be sure to disable the Java browser plug-in after installing Java to stay as safe as possible.
This tool is fairly simple to use. Connect your Mac-formatted drive to your Windows system, open HFSExplorer, and click File > Load File System From Device. HFSExplorer can automatically locate any connected devices with HFS+ file systems and open them. You can then extract files from the HFSExplorer window to your Windows drive.
Note that HFSExplorer is read-only, so you can’t actually modify files stored on your Mac drive or delete them. It also doesn’t integrate with Windows Explorer or File Explorer — files are available in the HFSExplorer application and you must copy them elsewhere.
Paragon HFS+ for Windows – $20, 10-Day Free Trial
Paragon HFS+ for Windows is a paid application, but it distinguishes itself with additional features. Unlike HFSExplorer, Paragon HFS+ for Windows provides full read/write access to Mac drives and promises high performance. It even integrates HFS+ file systems with Windows Explorer or File Explorer on Windows. Any Windows program can read from or write to the Mac drive.
This application does cost $20, but it also offers a 10-day free trial. If you just need to recover files from a drive, 10 days is plenty of time to install this file system driver, copy your files over, and uninstall it. If you want to use Mac drives on Windows on an ongoing basis, paying $20 so you can use the drive properly is a pretty good deal. As a bonus, Paragon HFS+ doesn’t require you have the insecure Java installed.
MacDrive – $50, 5-Day Free Trial
MacDrive is another fairly popular option here. It’s a paid application and is both more expensive and has a shorter free trial than Paragon HFS+. Like Paragon HFS+, MacDrive offers full read/write access via Windows Explorer fast performance. It also offers disk repair and partitioning tools for working with and creating Mac file systems. These are additional features, but you probably won’t need them.
This tool is a bit pricier than Paragon HFS+, so you’ll likely want to stick with Paragon HFS+ if you want a paid application. If Paragon HFS+ doesn’t work well for you for some reason, you may want to go with MacDrive. Luckily, thanks to the free trials, you can try it out to see if that extra $30 over Paragon HFS+ is actually worth it.
Format the Drive & Erase Its Contents
Let’s say you have a Mac drive lying around and you no longer have a Mac, as one of our MakeUseOf Answers questioners did. You’re not stuck with the Mac file system forever. After recovering the files from your drive with one of the tools above, you can then format the drive and convert it to a standard FAT32 partition that will work with most devices.
Formatting will erase all the files on your drive, so be sure you’ve recovered your files first. To format the drive, just use the dialog that appears when you connect the drive to your computer. You can also use the Disk Management utility to erase the Mac partition and create a new partition.
Which tool do you prefer for accessing Mac-formatted drives on Windows? Do you prefer MacDrive over Paragon HFS+ for some reason, or do you prefer another paid tool we didn’t cover here? Leave a comment and share your experience!
Image Credit: Ray Weitzenberg on Flickr