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Belkin Switch-to-Mac review

An easy way to move from PC to Mac? In theory, yes…

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Our Verdict

Bags of potential, but not without its problems. Should be fixable with a software upgrade, though

For

  • Vista- and Outlook-aware
  • Reasonably simple to use
  • Good transfer speeds

Against

  • Some data not copied properly
  • Doesn't copy email account settings
  • Manual could give more support

Moving from Windows to Mac can be a nightmare.

Traditionally, you had two options if you wanted to move all your documents, folders, music, photos and more from a machine running Windows to a new Mac.

You could either do everything manually, or you could try Move2Mac, a software and double-ended USB cable solution from Detto that enables you to connect the Mac and PC together directly and copy the files across.

It's a great idea, but the dated Detto system doesn't work with Vista and it doesn't migrate email, contacts and calendars from Outlook. To do that, you have to buy another product, Outlook2Mac, confusingly from a different company, that packages up your Outlook stuff and leaves it to Move2Mac to punt it across.

New way to transfer

Belkin, however, has taken a fresh look at data migration, and has produced its Switch-to-Mac cable and software bundle. It works with Vista as well as XP – and 10.5 as well as 10.4 – and promises to transfer email, contacts and calendars from Outlook, Outlook Express, or Vista's native Mail, Contacts and Calendars applications as well as moving across all the usual files and folders.

And first impressions are favourable. The manual is slim and the text a little small, but it's fairly comprehensive and contains at least some good 'best practice' information. The advice given isn't foolproof, but it's sufficient for someone with moderately good computer knowledge.

Once the helper application is launched on both computers, you tell it what you want to transfer – with a simple system of checkboxes for My Music, Files on the desktop, Outlook email, contacts and calendars and so on. There's also the option of specifically including other custom folders –and the files will copy across.

Copying from a relatively new Windows laptop running Vista SP1 and Office 2007 to an up-to-date quad-core Mac Pro, we saw transfer speeds that hovered around 15MB/sec –perfectly respectable.

Sorting files

After everything has transferred, files start getting added to the matching applications on the Mac. Images from My Pictures are sorted into grouped-by-folder entries in iPhoto and your music is added to iTunes.

The Mail import is a little odd – it doesn't copy across your different email account settings but does import all the mail into Mail's On My Mac section. You have to copy it from there to your proper Inbox, Sent, Draft and custom folders, which the manual doesn't make clear.

Most peculiar, however, was that the Switch-to-Mac system seemed to balk at some of the data. It only imported 10% of our Outlook contacts – Address Book told us there were import problems, but didn't offer details – and while it gulped in all the calendar information, it flattened multiple calendars to one 'WindowsPC' calendar in iCal.

Belkin suggests that the Address Book problem could have been caused by double-byte characters –folks in our Address Book listed in, say, Korean script – and that they're working on it.

Copying anomalies

Regular files and folders copied oddly as well, with some folders from My Documents getting put inside others for no apparent reason, and some not appearing to copy at all despite the target and source folder being the same size.

All of which means that Belkin's Switch-to-Mac cable gets only a qualified recommendation from us. It's certainly the simplest and most current software-aware method to transfer your files from PC to Mac, and we're working with Belkin to identify what caused the problems in our testing.

We're cautiously optimistic that a software update could eradicate these teething problems, and Belkin has deliberately chosen a plug-in architecture that will enable it to add support for other source and target applications if the demand is there.