iPod's more than just a music player

It's a tower of power for transferring data between Macs, but Mac-to-Windows migration will give you a migraine.

Henrik G. de Gyor

If you're looking for a good portable storage device to transfer data between Apple computers, look no further than the iPod.

But if instead you want a device that can transfer data between Mac OS and Microsoft Windows platforms, keep on looking'particularly if you depend a lot on personal digital assistant or MP3 capabilities.

The fault is with Windows XP, not the iPod. The iPod can read Windows' 32-bit File Allocation Table. Windows, on the other hand, can't read Apple's Hierarchical Filing System Plus format. So the iPod must be formatted to FAT-32 before you can put in or take out any data between Windows and Mac OS X.

And in a formatted FAT-32 environment, the software that runs the iPod's MP3, calendar, notes and address book features gets erased.

The Mac OS X side is considerably kinder to a FAT-32-formatted iPod than Windows is to HFS. Even a user new to the Mac world can configure an iPod to move data from a Windows machine to the iPod and onto a Mac OS X machine.

OS X sees the FAT-32 iPod as a device without proper software installed. It automatically launches the iPod Updater software so the user can restore the iPod to its original configuration.

All the user has to do to move data off the FAT-32 iPod is to exit the Updater software and access the iPod through the desktop. Data compatibility, however, is a different matter.

I wrote a test document in text under Windows and successfully transferred it to an iBook. But when I tried to open the .txt file in the iBook, the error message read 'Chinese text converter can only handle plain text document.'

Going in the other direction, Windows gave me a similar complaint about a text file I created on the iBook.

Clearly the two platforms could do a better job of playing nice with one another. But the iPod's ability to read FAT-32 is a nice gesture from Apple, even though Apple doesn't officially acknowledge that the iPod supports file transfers between the feuding operating systems.

It boggles my mind that so many people think of the iPod as an MP3 machine, when in fact it's so much more.

As a mounted drive, the iPod is average, but it's stellar at PDA calendar, contacts and notes functions. And of course the MP3 playback is second to none.

When it's not acting as a mounted drive, the iPod can only transfer data in one direction'from the computer to itself. All calendar, contact, music and notes data resides on the computer. Therefore, the iPod is only as good as the computer's software'mainly iTunes, iCal and Address Book.

I was impressed by the logical interface and ease of use of iCal and Address Book, compared with Microsoft Outlook.

Microsoft Outlook combines notes, calendar and contacts under one program with e-mail functionality; Apple separates them into programs that are unified by the iPod each time you iSync with the computer.

The benefit of separating these functions on the computer is that you can run one program independently of the others.

In contrast, synchronizing handheld devices with Windows machines requires initiating all the programs even if you want only one.

So you have to choose between Outlook, whose primary function is e-mail, or third-party software such as Palm OS versions that aren't as easy to use or as robust as Mac OS counterparts.

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