Formatting USB Jump Drives For Mac/Windows Compatibility

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If you’re a photographer like myself and you deliver your final product on a USB jump drive to your client(s), there’s a Mac and Windows compatibility issue that I and I’m sure many of you have run into in the past. The issue is with the formatting on the USB jump drive. For example, if I open a new USB jump drive and format it on my Mac, then transfer the .jpeg images onto it, then hand it off to a client who uses a Windows computer, sometimes the [frustrated] client would call or write saying that the jump drive I gave them wasn’t being recognized by their Windows machine.

The workaround to this problem is formatting the USB jump drive on your Mac as ‘FAT32’. Using this File Allocation Table – FAT, a computer file system architecture – the maximum file size for a USB jump drive formatted in the FAT32 format is 4GB. Do not confuse file with folder

Borrowing from PC Magazine:

A file is the common storage unit in a computer. All programs and data are contained in a file, and the computer reads and writes files. A folder holds one or more files, and it can be empty with just a name. Folders provide a method for organizing files similar to a manila file folder containing paper documents in a file cabinet.

In other words, consider a photograph (or .jpeg) as a file, and all your photographs (or ‘files’) go into a folder. For example, your photograph(s) might be labeled: 20130701_AlexWedding_0001.jpeg, etc. etc, and all of those photos/files go into a single folder labeled ‘Alex’s Wedding’.

So, using the FAT32 format – which, as I said is compatible with both Mac and Windows – the maximum file size cannot exceed 4GB, meaning each individual picture cannot exceed 4GB. However, the folder that the files/images are going into can be as big as the USB jump drive that you’re putting them onto, for example, 16GB.

The file vs. folder definition seems straight forward enough, but for the longest time I admit this confused the heck out of me. Hopefully it will help some of you encountering the same head-scratching dilema.

Incase you’re not sure how to format a flash drive, a useful ‘how-to’ article on the topic can be found here for both Windows and Mac.

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