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Cross-Platform Production - Mac, Boot Camp, Windows & Cineform

Part 1: Cutting on both sides of the fence By Mike Jones

There was time when it was unthinkable but the unthinkable, it seems, has become a reality - Windows on a Mac. But aside from the novelty value, the revelation of a dual operating system opens up new possibilities for video and digital media producers and rises above the traditionally application restricted and insular Mac platform.

For far too long the great computer platform debate has centered on the operating system but the truth is that the OS is the least significant part of the video maker's toolkit. It's not the operating system that is the focus of the editor's work, its the applications, the software tool interface that will be center of attention. It's the NLE where the editor will spend most of their time, not the elements of the OS. Choosing your computer system based on the operating system and then forcing yourself to be restricted to the software native to that OS is plainly silly. Logic would dictate that choosing the software tools that best fit your workflow, and which best match your creative style, first and then getting the OS to match that software is a far more functional perspective.

Of course the computer platforms themselves get in the way, enforcing software restrictions and preventing video makers from choosing the right combination of tools to suit them. That is of course until BootCamp.


After years of blind denial, Apple finally saw the light, dumped the slow and outmoded IBM CPUs, and moved to the Intel juggernaut. Apart from at last attaining speed parity with PCs, the move opened up the door for BootCamp, a system for running both Windows and MacOS on the same Mac computer.

In theory the development of a dual boot Mac delivering the best of both worlds and access to all possible software applications is a major boon. But is it so easy? How functional is it cutting on both sides of the fence?

The BootCamp software, originally available as an independent download in beta, is now fully implemented in Mac OS X Leopard 10.5. BootCamp itself is really very simple, little more than a dedicated hard drive partitioning system. What BootCamp does do to expedite the process of setting up a dual-boot computer is turn the whole process into a simple step by step wizard that creates the partition, kicks off the Windows install and then automatically installs all the specialized hardware drivers for the Mac hardware to be recognized under Windows.

Apple has done what they do best which is hold the user's hand through the process. The only tricky element involves the hard drive format used for the windows partition. Here we confront one of the few remaining area of cross-platform incompatibility.

The Mac uses the HFS+ hard drive format and this is a wholly proprietary format unable to be read by any other OS. For Windows the contemporary standard format is NTFS, a format used by not just Windows but also Linux systems in desktops as well as most of the world's servers. A drive in HFS+ cannot be seen or used at all by Windows. A drive in NTFS format can be seen by the Mac and the files accessed but the drive itself cannot be written to.

Obviously there is some degree of a corporate pissing context in this incompatibility that only finds common ground in a third and very old hard drive format, FAT32.

FAT32 drives can be both accessed and written to by both MacOS and Windows making them a useful shared drive space where files can be exchanged across the OS fence. There is a catch however, FAT32 has some significant technical limitations that substantially impact on video production. The first is that FAT32 has a 4GB file size limit. Any file created larger than this will either fail or be truncated.

The other issue is that when a FAT32 partition is created from Windows it is limited to 30GB in file size. This is a limitation and structural error in the way Windows works. It's not a total deal breaker as there are an array of processes and Command Line utilities that will circumvent this problem and allow for unlimited size partitions. But these processes are hardly straight forward and are not for the feint hearted or IT challenged.

So if the Mac side can't write to the NTFS drive and Windows can't even see the HFS+ drive and FAT32 is unusable for anything but small files and small partitions, what's the solution?

Certainly there are a cross section of commercial third party products on the market that will allow for access to non native drives; products such as Macdrive and Paragon Software NTFS for OSX. However there is a free, very simple ad non invasive alternative which circumvents hard drive format issues and the limitations of FAT32.

HFSXplorer is a very simple open source utility written in Java making it universal for all OS's and software environments. HFSXplorer simply allows for files on HFS drives to be accessed from the Windows side. So any file you create on the Mac side and render to the local Mac HFS partition can be seen with HFSXplorer on the Windows side and copied to the local NTFS Windows partition. Since the Mac can already see but not write to NTFS HFSXplorer makes for a complete system by doing the same for the Windows side what is native on the Mac side.

To put this in context, let`s say you had edited a project in Final Cut Pro on the Mac side but wanted to do the sound edit mix in Adobe Audition on the Windows side. You would simply export from FCP to the local Mac partition as per normal, boot into Windows and then use HFSXplorer to access the Mac partition and copy the exported project to the local Windows side. When you were done with the sound mix in Audition and need to go back to FCP the process is reversed. Export from Audition to the local Windows partition, boot into the Mac side, open the Windows drive and copy the Audition export to the Mac partition. The whole process is really very straight forward with the only significant downside being the extra hard drive space required.


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Mike Jones is a digital media producer, author, educator from Sydney, Australia. He has a diverse background across all areas of media production including film, video, TV, journalism, photography, music and on-line projects. Mike is the author of three books and more than 200 published essays, articles and reviews covering all aspects of cinematic form, technology and culture. Mike is currently Head of Technological Arts at the International Film School Sydney (www.ifss.edu.au), has an online home at www.mikejones.net and can be found profusely blogging for DMN at www.digitalbasin.net


Related Keywords:macos., oeprating system, video editing, windows os

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