It turns out you can mix apples and oranges

FI-Log-On-With-Larry-SchneiderDear Larry,

I am about to start a project with a colleague of mine who lives in California. He owns a Mac. But I own a PC and we plan to share files via email. What problems might we expect?

R. V.

Dear R. V.,

The first order of business has to do with the types of files you anticipate sharing. Ideally, you’d want to be running the same programs and versions to create these files. If you’re not, watch out. Imagine if your colleague only spoke French and you only spoke English.

But even if you’re not using the exact same software, there are ways around this problem. If you and your partner are using completely different programs to create a document of a certain type, often the less popular of the two programs will be able to work with files created in the other. After all, it’s the little fish that want to make friends with the big fish, not the other way around.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you’ll be sharing word processing documents, spreadsheets and slide presentations. You’ll be using Microsoft Office on your PC (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint), and “Cal” in California will be using Apple iWork on his Mac (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote).

Fortunately, the less popular of these two suites, iWork, has no problem opening Office documents. The reverse, however, isn’t true. Therefore, either you should be creating the original documents (which Cal will be able to open and save directly) or Cal should be exporting his new documents to Word, Excel, or PaperPort (using the iWork File, Export command) before emailing them to you.

Let’s say you’re both using the same programs, but different versions. Sometimes file formats change from one version to the next. In this case, you’ll probably want to work with a format common to both versions. For instance, Word 2003 can’t directly understand Word 2013 documents, but the newer program can certainly handle the older format. In this case, the Word 2007/2008 user may want to “save  as” his documents using the Word 2003 format.

Alternatively, the two of you can use an independent format compatible with both programs. Microsoft Word, WordPerfect, iWork Pages, and other word processing programs can all accommodate rich text format (RTF) files with aplomb.

Some programs don’t work this way. Say for some reason you have to pass Quicken or QuickBooks files back and forth. In that case Cal and you had better be working with the same program version.

Other programs may not exist on both platforms. If you’re working with Access database files, Cal will need to run Windows on his Mac because Microsoft has not rewritten Access for the Apple.

The bottom line is preparation and testing. Try sharing some test files and identify the formatting issues in advance of your project start date.

Then you’ll be mixing it up with the best of them.

This is Larry Schneider, logging off.


Larry Schneider is the owner of Accent on Computers, a Greenwich-based consulting firm — now in its 15th year of business — catering to individuals, businesses and professional offices. PC and Mac services include computer setup, training, troubleshooting, virus resolution, networking, Internet, database, and programming. Call 203-625-7575, visit or send email to [email protected]

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