I've been using Mac OS X on a daily basis for about a year and a half now, and though I still prefer Windows XP overall, OS X is a viable operating environment for a variety of people, including consumers, graphics professionals, and even UNIX geeks looking for a more mainstream system than Linux. Mac OS X's biggest strengths, of course, are its excellent digital media experiences, and the rock-solid nature of its UNIX-like underpinnings. But the biggest problem with Mac OS X has always been the difficulty of moving important settings, email and personal information management data, and certain types of documents from the PC to the Mac. It's an issue I've struggled with regularly for over a year now. But thanks to two new software products, these issues have largely been solved.

Before we get to that, however, I'd like to quickly discuss a major problem with Apple's Switch campaign, in which the company is trying to convince Windows users to abandon their platform and move to the Mac. I don't honestly believe that most people will be happy making the switch, because many of the applications, services, and capabilities Windows users take for granted are simply not available on the Mac. That said, the biggest market for PCs this year is second or even third machines in the home, and for customers looking at augmenting their existing PC, a Mac would make a fine choice in many situations. The problem facing these half-hearted converts, however, is the same as it is for those who actually do replace a PC with a Mac. How do you get your important information from the PC to the Mac?

While Windows applications themselves can't make the conversion, many Windows document types simply work fine on the Mac. You can copy Word documents and other Microsoft Office documents to a recordable CD, or transfer them via email or network, and they'll work fine in various Mac Office versions. Text documents work equally well, as do many audio and video formats, such as MP3 and AVI. But I've had enormous difficulty moving email, and Personal Information Management (PIM) data from the PC to the Mac. In fact, I have spent the better part of a year working on ways to automate the copying of this data to the Mac. For example, I'd like to easily copy Outlook or Outlook Express email to Apple Mail or Microsoft Entourage on Mac OS X. And I'd like to get my Outlook Calendar data into Apple iCal, and my Outlook Contacts into Apple's new Address Book application.

I'd tried virtually every conceivable method with mixed results. And then, just a few short weeks ago, two solutions arrived to solve this problem. And they work extremely well.

The first, dubbed Move2Mac, is a hardware/software solution from Detto Technologies, makers of IntelliMover, a similar solution that helps PC users move applications and data from one PC to another. Move2Mac includes a Windows setup routine that helps you choose the data you'd like to copy, a special USB cable for connecting the PC to the Mac, and a Macintosh executable that starts the copy process. You can use Move2Mac to do an enormous data dump all in one pass, or simply copy over individual items on the fly, it's up to you.

Move2Mac works extremely well, though the initial version is limited to email in Outlook Express format only (the company offers a free copy of Netscape 7.0 for both the Mac and PC, and instructions for using that tool to automate the copying of mail from applications other than Outlook Express, and an Outlook converter is in the works too). In addition to email, Move2Mac can copy over various document types, including word processing, spreadsheets, databases, and graphics; photo files; music files; movie files; folders, Internet Explorer Favorites and home page, your Windows address book, and various system settings, like the desktop background.

The bundled USB cable is not interchangeable with other USB cables, as it utilizes a special chip to work the data transfer. Detto says its capable of moving 500 MB of data in 20 minutes, though I transferred far less than that. If you're moving to the Mac, or have added a Mac to your home network, give Move2Mac a look.

Because I use Outlook for email, address book, and PIM information, however, Move2Mac was still an incomplete solution. Almost magically, the very day I tested Move2Mac, I discovered a new shareware application called Outlook2Mac. This wonderful application converts Outlook email, contacts, calendar appointments, and tasks to Mac compatible formats, letting you place them in the appropriate OS X applications. For example, it can convert Outlook email to Apple Mail or Microsoft Entourage, convert Outlook contacts into Apple Address Book, and convert Outlook Calendar appointments and tasks into Apple iCal or Microsoft Entourage. Best of all, it only costs $10 for a limited time, and its compatible with Outlook 97, 98, 2000, XP (2002). Outlook2Mac is also compatible with various other OS X applications; check the Web site for details.

One final issue that may bug Mac switchers concerns moving data from the Mac back to the PC. Right now, neither of these products offers any way to move data in the reverse direction, which could be an issue for some people. It's something I'd like to have, if only because I like to take an iBook on business trips, but have to be careful not to update my calendar or whatever. However, this probably isn't a huge issue for many users.