Adding Macs to your home network

Most of us have at least a basic home network up and running, with a wireless router connecting various Windows laptops and PCs, as well as games consoles, storage devices and printers. The good news is that adding a Mac to it is a relatively painless process.

Adding Macs to your home network

Connecting to your wireless router should be no problem at all, with today’s MacBooks and iMacs boasting dual-band Wi-Fi and all the necessary security modes. Once you’ve made that step, there are many more ways to integrate your Mac.

Backup & synchronisation

If you already have file synchronisation set up on your Windows PCs, you should be able to simply carry it over to the Mac. The best-known services have Mac clients, including Dropbox, SugarSync and even Microsoft’s own Windows Live Mesh. Just download and log in, and you’ll be able to access and download your files from the cloud immediately.

If you’re careful with your file formats and choice of software, there’s no reason why you can’t flit between your old and new systems while you work.

For a more robust local backup of your vital files, you’ll want to make use of OS X’s handy Time Machine feature. If you’re a new Apple convert it’s unlikely you’ll have bought Time Capsule – a Mac mini-shaped high-capacity storage box that performs automatic wireless backups – but it’s just as simple to connect an external hard disk over USB. OS X will ask if you want to use it as a backup drive, then present you with the Time Machine backup options, including the ability to exclude files, folders or volumes from the backup.

By default, after the initial full backup has completed it saves changes hourly, gradually scaling back over time – your disk will always have hourly backups for the past day, daily backups for the past month, and weekly backups until the drive is full. That’s fine and dandy with a wireless Time Capsule, but less practical with a cumbersome wired drive; be sure to plug it in at least once a week to ensure a regular backup is taken.


For file-sharing between Macs and PCs, you may find you can see your Windows shares straight away. You’ll find them in the Finder under the Network section.

But if you’re unlucky, your Mac will shrug its shoulders and refuse to connect to anything without an Apple label. Your Windows machines, meanwhile, will almost certainly dig their heels in until you cajole them into action.

This is because Macs and PCs use different default network protocols for enabling folder and file sharing: Apple filing protocol (AFP) for Apple devices; server message block (SMB)/common internet file-system (CIFS) for Windows. They weren’t ever designed to work together.

Fortunately, modern Macs do come with an option to enable SMB file-sharing. You’ll find it in System Preferences | Sharing, under the Options button.

There’s no way to persuade your Mac to join a Windows 7 HomeGroup, though, so make sure all of your Windows PCs are using standard user accounts, and password-based sharing. You’ll find this setting in the Network and Sharing Center in the Advanced sharing settings section, under “Choose HomeGroup and sharing options”.

Obviously, before you go any further, do check that file-sharing is enabled on all of your computers, but assuming you’ve already done that, all your machines should now be accessible in both directions. Windows PCs should now pop up in the Finder’s Network section. To connect to a Mac on a PC, you’ll need to enter its name with a couple of backslashes preceding it into the Start menu search box.

If you own a NAS drive, connecting to it with your Mac should be more straightforward. Many consumer NAS devices support both SMB/CIFS and AFP, and setting up the whole shebang should be as simple as enabling the AFP option in your NAS device’s web-based administration pages, and heading over to the Finder to access it.

Even without the AFP options enabled, your Mac ought to be able to see the NAS drive. The only difference is that you may need to add its URI to the “Connect to Server” box in the Finder (say, smb:// to get to it.

There are even NAS drives on the market that support Time Machine backup. With this feature enabled, the NAS drive should appear automatically in the Time Machine disk selection box, and adding it as a destination is as simple as double-clicking. Be aware, however, that older NAS boxes may need a firmware update before OS X will let you use them.


Generally speaking, the threat from malware and viruses is significantly reduced on the Mac – partly due to its more secure architecture, but also due to its smaller userbase being less attractive to criminals – so if you’re an experienced user who knows the ins and outs of staying safe online, you can probably get by without any third-party security software. But if you’re setting up a Mac that will be used by less savvy members of your family, or if you just don’t like the idea of being unprotected, there are several options.

Even if you’ve previously bought an antivirus suite with several home computer licences, these are likely to be only applicable to Windows PCs. You can buy separate Mac versions of most of the big suites, but you might also want to consider the growing number of do-it-all cross-platform packages.

Kaspersky One and McAfee All Access will protect PCs, Macs and Android smartphones and tablets with a single purchase; Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac & PC does the same, minus handheld devices. A few also have additional packages to protect iPhones and iPads for an extra fee. We can’t vouch for their effectiveness or the need for them, however.

If that all sounds too much when it’s PCs that carry the bulk of the virus threat, you could stick with your existing Windows protection, but download Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac Home Edition on the side. It’s made by a big name in the security world, and it’s free.

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Running Windows on a Mac

Migrating a PC onto a Mac with Parallels

Sticking with OS X on a Mac

Transferring your iPhone or iPad to a new Mac

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