Apple PC-Exchange and its limits...

Summary: Why is Apple PC-Exchange not an universal solution to data transfers between Macintosh and PC? The many problems seen by PC users. How things are seen from the PC point of view.


The main advantage of Apple PC-Exchange is that it is free. One could even say it is its only advantage... This software is certainly a good solution to exchange floppies between Macintoshes and PCs, but its shortcomings become soon an intolerable burden for the power user.

PC Exchange main shortcomings

Here is what we consider as the main shortcomings of PC Exchange (PCE). We give more comments and details below, showing why this software should not be used for real work.

Even if some of those shortcomings can be explained by certain decisions of the designers, to keep the Macintosh user away from what happens on his computer, and may even show some internal logic, we think that it is enough to look for other solutions. As PCE is now free, nobody can expect to see a company launching a commercial product for the Macintosh. The only solution is often to use specific tools on the PC.

More, don't dream! PCE doesn't convert anything, and you'll need a logical converter even to transfer text files.

No Long Filenames

Believe it or not, but we had to wait for the System 8 to be able to get MS-DOS files with long filenames. Windows 95 is now out since more than two years! More, it seems that all Macintosh can't upgrade to the new version of PCE.

Cryptic PC Names Beginning With a '!'

When you copy a Macintosh file whose name is longer than 8 + 3 characters, PCE gives it a filename like ! and stores the real file name in an hidden file, to be able to restore it if the user chooses to copy the file back to the Macintosh hard disk.
For an example, a file called "Excel Spreadsheet" will become "!EXCELSP.REA" on the MS-DOS diskette. Do you imagine that PC users are also accustomed, now, to click on filenames to launch the corresponding application. They will get cryptic error messages about the extension "REA" not being registered by an application.

No Extension Management for Mac to PC Exchanges

If PCE can give a signature to a PC file copied to the Macintosh (see the page we publish on Macintosh signatures to know more about this), it doesn't do it in the opposite direction, that is when it copies a Macintosh file on the MS-DOS volume. In the example above, it is clear that if the file had an ".XLS" extension, things would be better.

No Support for Volumes Formatted with Adaptec AFDISK

I can't yet advance definitive conclusions about the reasons, but it appears that PCE can't mount most magnetic volumes partitioned with Adaptec AFDISK. If this tool has also its lot of "features", it is clearly one of the standards of the industry and should certainly not be ignored.

Some PC media Don't Mount

Volumes partitioned with AFDISK are not alone. Some other (more or less recent) formatting schemes seem to drive PCE crazy, notably the volumes formatted as "floppies" (that is, removable cartridges without a partitioning sector, whose first sector is the boot sector).

No Support for Macintosh AND PC Volumes on the Same SCSI Drive

Imagine you just bought a wonderful drive for removable cartridges, like a Jaz or the like. You surely think you're going to exchange data easily with PC owners. Sure! But you'll have not to use it with Macintosh volumes. What! Yes, indeed! You have to open the PCE application, select the drive you intend to manage with PCE, to avoid loading the Macintosh driver, and reboot the computer. I only hope you don't work in network, with some of our files opened by other users... Well, you see what I mean. Now you can open the MS-DOS cartridge and work on the data.
Say you now want to read a Macintosh cartridge. It's quite simple. You just open the PCE application, select the drive to load the Macintosh driver and not the PCE driver, you reboot your computer... Any comments?

Limitation on the Subfolder Depth

It seems that you can't have more than eight subfolder levels.

Limitation on the Size of the Medium

It seems that PCE can't mount volumes bigger than 850 MB. To be precise, it's my experience. For an example, I never could mount a MS-DOS Jaz cartridge on my Macintosh. I heard other users saying they can do it.

The Software Creates Many Hidden Files and Folders

When PCE loads a MS-DOS volume, it scans it and creates in each folder an hidden (!) file called FINDER.DAT which contains data like the position of the windows, the display mode, etc. More, it creates an hidden (!) folder called RESOURCE.FRK which will contain the resource fork of Macintosh files which could be copied to the MS-DOS volume. Those entries are a pain because they are difficult to delete. It is always easy to reformat a floppy, but it is not always the case with bigger volumes like cartridges. More, if you happen to give such a volume to some customers who are rather picky on safety, they could choke on those hidden files and folders (it happened to me!).

Other Solutions on the Macintosh

Before PCE was bundled with the operating system, there was several products allowing to read/write MS-DOS volumes on the Macintosh (mainly Access PC, from Insignia Solutions, and DosMounter, from Dayna Communications). It is clear that there is no market share any more for such products. Anyway, Software Architects took over DosMounter and made a version supporting long file names, etc. A one-week demo can be downloaded from their site.


If you work on a Macintosh, why would you not use PCE, as you got it for free? If you only have to manage floppies to get files created on a PC, no problem if you version of the system is recent enough. If you have to use other kinds of magnetic media, you should know that you'll have to do some selections and settings you never would have dreamt of. Where is the Macintosh ease of use?

If you work on a PC, we think you should really use some tools on the PC side of the fence. Because of what we said above, but also because Macintosh users don't like to tinker with such technical trivia (and they should not be blamed because of this). The best solution is to ask them to give their files as usual, on a classical Macintosh medium, and to give them a Macintosh medium, with all necessary icons, where they don't have anything special to do.

Our tool MacDisk) can help you to manage correctly all Macintosh media on the PC (even those MS-DOS volumes written to by PCE). See our downloading page.

Pierre Duhem (ex-Logiciels & Services Duhem)
3, rue Pierre Haret - F-75009 Paris (France) - Tel. (+33) [0]149 700 455