Are you a Mac user who is thinking about making the switch to Windows because you want to get a Surface 3 or Surface Pro 3 but you’re afraid of making the switch?
What if I told you that you can keep your Mac AND access (almost) all of your data with a Surface? Well you can and, in this article, we’re going to discuss how and it’s not as hard as you might think.
Now you might be asking yourself why this is something you would want to do, after all, most people tend to be Windows OR Mac users not both.
That’s true but since the Surface is such a useful/cool/powerful machine, I’ve had a fair share of people contact me with questions about how they could use a Surface with Mac computers. They are interested in getting one but don’t want to switch to Windows full time – I get it; it’s a comfort thing.
So, if you are a Mac user but also want to become a Surface user without giving up you Mac, read on…
Using a Surface with Mac Computers: iCloud Is Your Friend, Use It!!
If you’re a heavy iCloud user, then switching back and forth between your Mac and Surface can be fairly easy since you will have many of your documents, calendar, contacts, mail, etc. in the iCloud already.
If you’re not using iCloud on your Mac, you might want to start using it (at least for stuff you want to access from your Surface) since it is, arguably, the most convenient way to use your Mac and Surface together while keeping your data consistent between the two operating systems.
While you can technically access the data inSurface, I recommend you install and configure the iCloud for Windows software as it simply makes it easier and more convenient to use.
There are instructions from Apple for doing so at this link: Setup and Use iCloud for Windows. Once it is setup and configured, you’ll get the following integration between your Mac and Surface:
- Your Safari bookmarks will be automatically be synced between your Mac and IE/Chrome/Firefox on your Surface. If you use Chrome or Firefox on your Mac, you will want to look at these links for instructions on syncing your bookmarks:
- In Windows Explorer, links will appear letting you easily access your iCloud Photos and iCloud Drive
- If you have Outlook installed (included in Office 365 on the Surface 3) it will also create a mail account you can use to easily access your iCloud mail, calendar, and contacts
Frankly, in my experience, the ability to see the same bookmarks, mail, calendar, and contacts on multiple devices solves about 90% of common integration complaints people have when they try to do things cross-platform.
However, there are a few limitations that using iCloud on both your Surface and Mac won’t handle:
- There’s a 5GB (default) limit for your iCloud space
- You need an active network connection to access your iCloud Drive or iCloud Photo data
- If you have an application on your Mac, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have access to the same application on your Surface
The 5GB iCloud limit can be easily overcome by simply buying more iCloud space but, that won’t overcome the other two hurdles. So, what can you do to about that?
Using a Surface with Mac Computers: Get an External Drive
Well, the next thing I recommend you do is get an external USB hard drive, if you don’t already have one (and I believe everyone should have one anyway).
It’s an incredibly easy way to make sure you can access your files from both your Mac and Surface. Simply keep the files you want to share on the external drive and plug the drive into the device you want to use.
If you don’t already have an external USB hard drive, here are a few suggestions for you:
You might be thinking… “Hey, didn’t you say I could buy more iCloud space? Why should I haul around a USB drive if I can just get more space?”
Well, aside from the fact that renting additional iCloud space would be more expensive than any of the above USB drive options after only about 3 months, having your data on a USB hard drive also helps solve the required network connection to access iCloud Drive or iCloud Photos problem.
Yes, I know there’s a potential for losing data if the drive is lost, damaged, or stolen but, so long as you ensure you have copies somewhere, you can make this work just fine.
OK, now that I’ve checked 2 of the 3 iCloud limitations off the list, let’s talk about the third…
Using a Surface with Mac Computers: Applications and Application Compatibility
This one is a bit sticky because a lot of commercial application publishers will expect you to buy a second copy of their software for your Surface (or any other computer, for that matter).
They won’t be perfect but, if you are budget conscious, this might be a good way to make sure you can use the data you’re sharing between your Surface and Mac.
Another thing you can do is be conscious of file formats. Many programs will let you save your data in different file formats and you can often (but not always) find a common file format that programs on both the Mac and Surface share. It’s a bit of a change to get used to it but, once you do, you won’t even notice it.
Using a Surface with Mac Computers: Consider Making the Jump to Surface Only
Finally, if this mixed environment doesn’t work for you, you could just consider making the leap to a Surface and leave your Mac behind. Of course, you could also give up on the Surface and downgrade to iPad for a tablet but who would want to do that? 🙂
It turns out that Microsoft has an excellent website for helping Mac users with migrating from Surface Pro 3, the tips and instructions included would also work for a Surface 3, Surface Pro, or Surface Pro 2.
It will be painful in the short-term to abandon your Mac for a Surface but, in the long term, you might be really happy you did.
Tim Rolston is a professional geek with over 23 years of experience working in Information Technology and dealing with everything from large-scale storage to remote systems management and automation for organizations such as Texas Instruments, Mobil Oil, and the University of Michigan (where he was an Academic IT Director).
He co-founded JTRTech along with Joanna to realize his long-time dream of working for himself.