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Question from Kerrie: I have a MacBook Pro and don’t own a Windows computer.
If I copy files from my MacBook Pro onto a thumb drive will my sisters be able to copy those files from that same thumb drive onto their Windows PCs?
This is the only option that’s available to us right now because I don’t have a Windows PC and neither of my sisters has a Mac.
Is this going to be a problem or can we all write files onto the same thumb drive and have the other computers be able to read them?
Rick’s answer: I have great news for you, Kerrie. The answer to your question is yes, you can use a USB flash drive (aka thumb drive) to transfer files between your MacBook Pro and your sisters’ Windows PCs.
However, in order to do that you’ll need to format the drive in a special way.
By default, Macs and Windows PCs format their drives using different file systems, and the file systems they use aren’t completely compatible with one another.
That means if you save files onto a USB flash drive with a Mac, your PC might have trouble reading those files, and vice versa.
However, if you format the drive with a file system called ExFat, both PCs and Macs will be able to read files placed on it by either machine.
Luckily, this formatting process is fast and easy using either machine (Mac or PC). Just follow the appropriate steps below.
Important: Make sure you copy any important files that are currently on the thumb drive onto other media before you format it because those files will no longer be available after the formatting procedure is complete.
To format a drive using ExFat with your Mac:
1 – Attach the drive to the Mac.
2 – Click Finder.
3 – Click Applications.
4 – Click Utilities.
5 – Click Disk Utility.
6 – Select the drive you wish to format in the left-hand sidebar.
7 – Click Erase.
8 – From the “Format” menu, select ExFAT.
9 – From the “Scheme” menu, select Master Boot Record.
10 – Click Erase and then follow the prompts to confirm.
To format a drive using ExFat with your sister’s Windows PC:
1 – Attach the drive to the PC.
2 – Press the Windows+E key combination to open a “File Explorer” window.
3 – Right-click on the drive you wish to format.
4 – Click Format.
5 – Select ExFat from the drop-down menu in the “File System” field.
6 – Click Start and wait for the formatting process to complete.
That’s all there is to it. Regardless of whether the drive was formatted with a Windows PC or a Mac you’ll now be able to use it with both types of machines with no worries about switching back and forth between the two.
And now, a couple of important things to keep in mind:
1 – Depending on which model of MacBook Pro you have, there’s a good chance that it won’t have the same type of USB port that’s available on your sisters’ Windows PCs.
If you have a recent MacBook Pro it will only have USB Type-C compatible “Thunderbolt” ports which aren’t compatible with the USB Type-A ports that are likely on your sisters’ Windows machines.
However, this isn’t really a problem even if it turns out to be the case. You can simply use a USB flash drive like this one that can connect to either type of machine.
2 – USB flash drives are notoriously unreliable compared to hard drives and SSDs. Therefore, they should only be used to transfer files between computers (which is what you plan to use yours for) and for short-term file storage.
I strongly recommend that you always keep copies of any files stored on a thumb drive on other media as a backup. Just sayin’.
I hope this helps, Kerrie. Good luck!