Would Windows XP make a good Mac file server?

Discussion in 'Windows, Linux & Others on the Mac' started by 9Charms, Mar 5, 2007.

  1. 9Charms macrumors regular


    May 19, 2006
    Vancouver, BC
    I'm not sure if this is the proper place for this post, but I'll give it a go.

    First a little background: I have an old P3-500/256MB RAM that I'd like to put into use as a file server. I've already tried Ubuntu, but I can't for the life of me get it to work properly (I really need one of those "do this, then do this" guides). Also, Ubuntu doesn't work properly with my PCI ATA card (VIA 6421) which is a big problem as I have 3 x 250GB HDD's just kicking around that I'd like to throw into the box. I don't want to spend any more money (say like buying one of those new Airport Extremes). But I do have 2 legit copies of Windows XP (1 Home, 1 Pro), and file sharing on Windows is soooo easy (as compared to Ubuntu). I want to have a central repository for all our movies, music, and photos that can be accessed by anyone on the network. I will also be using SuperDuper and Acronis to create disk images for backups to the file server. I have 2 windows machines and 2 macs that would need access.

    So my main question is would Windows XP make a good Mac fileserver?
    • What are pitfalls?
    • Which copy of XP should I use? (I'd like to use Home if I could)
    • Are there really any security concers if it's just a simple file server? (I'm behind a basic linksys router)
    • Are illegal file names or characters a real problem?
    • I'm thinking of creating disk images on the PC server to avoid the illegal file name potential problem... is this a good idea?
    • Is there a way to make the Macs automatically mount the file server on boot up?
    • I'd like to stick the server in a closet and control it with VNC or something similar. Any suggestions?

    If you're really a Linux fan, I wouldn't mind listening if you can offer me up a step-by-step configuration guide of Ubuntu (or whatever distro works for you) but keep in mind that I have no experience in command-line interfaces as I've been a GUI user all my life. I have tried Ubuntuguide.org, but it just doesn't actually tell me what I need to do, only what I can do if I knew what I was looking for (if that makes any sense to you).

    Thanks for all your help in advance!
  2. ReanimationLP macrumors 68030


    Jan 8, 2005
    On the moon.
    I'd use Professional.

    Your main pitfall is the fact that Mac OS X cant write to NTFS, and XP will only format drives under 40 GB into FAT32, so you need to find a 3rd party tool that will override that, use a USB 2.0 case to format them on your Mac, use Linux to format them one by one, etc.
  3. 2ndPath macrumors 6502

    Feb 21, 2006
    Actually is it a problem to access a disc which is formatted to NTFS via windows file sharing with Mac OS for writing? I know it is, if the disk is mounted locally, but over the network I thought it is not a problem, because the filesystem in this case is handled by windows.
  4. MacVault macrumors 65816

    Jun 10, 2002
    Planet Earth
    Pitfalls - Even one is too many...

    Hi 9Charms, I've tried the very same thing in the past and it was a waste of my time, other than that it was a learning experience. I wish there were no pitfalls because I too would love to have a fileserver without having to use expensive Mac hardware. I wouldn't ming paying a few buck$ though if only Apple would come out with a headless home network server.

    Here are the pitfalls I can think of with the setup you are considering...

    1) Strange characters in filenames and filenames that are too long will kill your copy process dead in it's tracks. This is a real pain and I don't know why OS X isn't smart enough to tell the user the name of the offending file and give the user the option of skipping the file. Instead it just kills the entire process and so you don't know what files copied and what files did not. This problem is one of my biggest gripes with Apple. There's NO EXCUSE for this kind of thing in the "World's Most Advanced Operating System".

    2) Next problem is that of the meta data being stripped off in the copy process.

    3) D_store files will be all over your Windows drive.

    4) Performance was always an issue for me.
  5. Father Jack macrumors 68020

    Father Jack

    Jan 1, 2007
    I afraid that Windows Xp would only make one good thing ..... a pile of crap.

  6. solvs macrumors 603


    Jun 25, 2002
    LaLaLand, CA
    It works fine. I used to do it with 2000, now do it with XP Pro. 2000 was better IMO. Home might work, but it would be harder. It's not great, but it works. I just enable sharing in XP, and put a link to the shared drive in my Dock next to the Trash. Occasionally I get wake from sleep issues, but I can usually mount and unmount without much issue. I still prefer the way 2000 did it, which would run faster on your system, so use that if you can.

    I don't like Vista at all, so I couldn't say how well it works, but I'm sure it does.
  7. nplima macrumors 6502a

    Apr 26, 2006
    Assuming that all hardware is supported (which apparently is not) it should be mostly the same, using Ubuntu or Windows for this simple goal of sharing files. If you don't have the time or skills to get things working after reading the Ubuntu Guide, it's best you go to a university, find your local Linux guru and hire him to get the work done.
    Home will do. Avast! antivirus should be used and the Windows firewall should close everything except file sharing. for added security, install an email client and the Firefox browser just to change the defaults from Outlook Express and IE. disable MSN messenger and everything else that you can.
    if you don't run IE, Outlook and the computer is sitting there behind NAT, it's unlikely that bad things will happen. of course, a OS X or Linux running with all services locked down by default would be even less likely to be broken into, but if you can't get the disk controller working under Linux, then it's not really an option.
    if you use Linux, no. if you decide to use Windows, then start choosing your filenames carefully.
    just change your file naming habits. there is really not that much difference between c:\music80 and c:\music of the 80's if you're using spotlight or google desktop search. If you look inside your iPod (HFS or FAT32), the file names are simplified and that doesn't matter, as you use iTunes to get sort and find them.

    use this one: http://www.tightvnc.com/
    What you just wrote should go in to the Lazy User Hall of Fame. :D

    you're looking for this one:

    As for other comments:
    1) using NTFS will work perfectly with OS X, as it's the server that needs to "speak" NTFS (or whichever partition type), not the Mac. the Mac only needs to "speak" SMB network protocol;
    2) you can disable writing of .DS_ files on network shares : http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=301711
    There's a freeware app that does this but I don't have my Mac here right now
    3) performance: YMMV :)
  8. mkrishnan Moderator emeritus


    Jan 9, 2004
    Grand Rapids, MI, USA
    Agreed, but you might also try using the ext2fs extensions for Windows (or in any Linux) and serving ext2fs instead of NTFS purely so that you get POSIX....
  9. 9Charms thread starter macrumors regular


    May 19, 2006
    Vancouver, BC
    Thanks you guys, expecially nplima for the detailed response. I'll set it up this week/end and report back.
  10. 9Charms thread starter macrumors regular


    May 19, 2006
    Vancouver, BC
    I've got the XP box set up now and have 2x250GB HD's hooked up to the P3 and shared to the network. I'm not using them in a raid, just one HD for media, the other for data backups.

    VNC took me a while to figure out, but at last, I found that you have to edit the Windows Firewall preferences to open port 5900. Maybe that'll help some people out.

    I can record stuff off my Motorola DCT6416 through my PowerBook in the livingroom, to the server upstairs and play it back from there without a hitch (house is wired with cat5 cables). A full HD program will run 4.5GB per hour... yikes!

    I have the server running iTunes full-time and sharing it's music library. Any new music will go into the server's library, and organized from there. VNC is a bit slow for this though... maybe I need a Gigabit card and switch...

    I haven't figure out a good way to share photos yet though. I have a mixed network with a couple of Macs and Windows machines... I thought about keeping the iPhoto library on the server, but then Windows can't read it. Any input would be greatly appreciated here. I really like iPhoto, and the wife likes Adobe Bridge (on Windows).

    I am seriously considering using Ubuntu because filename errors really bug me, but I suppose this is only during the initial coping of the files... Anyone know if MacDrive would solve this? I have a copy so I'll give it a go this weekend...

    However, I don't know if Ubuntu will do iTunes and/or iPhoto sharing, or if it has something better.

    On another note, my Mac copies files to and from the server faster/better than my Vista machine... very surprising!

    Having Front Row on my Mac hooked up to the HDTV and controlling with a remote is really quite cool. I can't wait to have a party and show my friends...
  11. ArthurS macrumors newbie

    Apr 17, 2006

    If you ONLY want to use it as a file server, use FreeNas: http://www.freenas.org

    It's based on FreeBSD, but is so simple to set up a monkey could do it (honestly). It is at least as easy to set up as XP, if not easier. It supports AFP (so you can mount the file server as a network drive on your mac), but also supports regular Windows File Sharing, FTP etc etc.

    It's fast, easy, full-featured and very reliable. Not to mention the fact it is completely free. Try it, you will not be disappointed.
  12. RedTomato macrumors 68040


    Mar 4, 2005
    .. London ..
    I'd say sell your P3 box and buy a G4 PowerMac for about $100 and use that as the fileserver.

    But I don't know how well it will work at serving your 2 windows machines.

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