How to access a firewire hard drive using VM software

Neither Parallels nor VMWare Fusion offer native support for firewire hard drives. Instead, both applications support USB devices and virtual hard drives sourced from free space on the Mac host.

Nevertheless, it is possible to configure a Windows virtual machine so that it can store and retrieve data from a firewire hard drive that is mounted on the Mac desktop. Here’s how.

1. Use Apple’s Disk Utility to format the firewire drive as MS-DOS (FAT).

While Windows will also be able to access the drive if it is formatted as Mac OS X Extended, there are strong reasons to avoid the native drive format for OS X when sharing a firewire storage device on a computer that is used to run both Mac and Windows.

Mac OS X maintains a central desktop database about the applications and documents that are located on a drive volume. The desktop database is stored in two invisible files called Desktop DB and Desktop DF that are located in a volume’s root directory. Additional information about the drive structure is maintained in an invisible folder called HFS+ Private Data. Each of these items become visible when you elect to format a drive as Mac OS X Extended and provide the Windows virtual machine with shared folder access to the root directory of the external drive. Tampering with the HFS+ Private Data folder is discouraged, as it could cause the drive to become unreadable.

2. Configure the Windows virtual machine to use a folder on the firewire drive for sharing purposes.

Using VMWare as our example (Parallels works in a similar manner), open the Settings menu and select Add Shared Folder from the drop-down menu that is revealed when you click the plus (+) button. Click on the Path option on the follow-up menu and then select Choose from the list. Navigate to the selected folder on your external hard drive, then click the Open button to select.

Enter a name for the shared folder and place a check mark next to the Enabled button. To finalize creation of the shared folder, click OK.

Before closing the Settings window, review the Shared Folders setting to ensure that both Enable and Enable at power on are checked.

3. Open your virtual machine application to access the shared folder on the firewire drive.

Again, using Fusion as our example, double-click a folder on the Windows desktop called VMware Shared Folders. You should be able to see and navigate to the shared folder that’s located on the firewire hard drive.



Filed under Third Party Software

13 responses to “How to access a firewire hard drive using VM software

  1. Don't

    Fat32? You can’t transfer files over 4 GB. F*ck that!

  2. Phillip

    Hi Dale,
    This is Phillip (the tall one) from the contra dance world.

    I tried this using Parallels 3.0 build 5608 running Vista, sharing an external Firewire drive formatted HFS+. It does NOT show the Desktop DF and DB files in Vista. Perhaps this is something to do with Vista. The files are definitely there – I verified using Terminal in Mac OS.

    Presuming the problem still exists for others, and if Ed’s suggestion of changing the Windows permissions doesn’t work (I couldn’t test it), here’s another idea:

    If you really must reformat a drive for safe access from both Windows and Mac, then I’d recommend using NTFS rather than FAT32. That eliminates the 4GB size restrictions, and has better performance as well. It’s the preferred format for XP and Vista (and required for a boot volume for either). Mac OS X includes native read-only access to NTFS volumes. volumes, and no format capability. However, the free/open-source package NTFS-3G ( adds full NTFS capabilities to Mac OS X, including direct access to formatting a volume as NTFS from the Disk Utility Erase command.

    I’ve got NTFS-3G installed (on 10.5.5), and it works fine for me, though I haven’t really stress-tested it.


  3. Does any one have any ideas how I could connect a firewire film scanner to VM to use maybe xsane in Ubuntu or is that something quite ridiculous?

  4. Michael, the only way I can see how you can connect a firewire film scanner in this manner is if you can install (or have already installed) a firewire adapter card in your Mac and that the adapter comes with the driver that is designed for the OS running inside your VM. Not sure whether installing a USB-to-firewire adapter would be an option. The following web page discourages their use:

  5. Shirley Christensen

    I successfully was able to use this method to import my firewire drive videos into Sony Picture Motion browser (pmb) program, however, it was not able to analyze the files to allow me to be able to utilize there content better. Do you know anything about the software called unibrain. I was wondering if there was anyway that I could get pmb to be able to analize the shared folders?

    • admin

      I’m downloading the 32-bit version of unibrain’s firewire driver to test it on my office computer. Will report back later.

      • admin

        During setup of Unibrain’s drivers, I received an error message that the program could not detect any firewire devices. The error occurred even though my external firewire drive was turned on (but unmounted on the Mac side).

    • admin

      I don’t know the model of your camcorder, which I assume is a Sony AVCHD system. I suggest posing a question on Sony’s web page (one appropriate for your country of origin) asking a support technician how Picture Motion Browser is designed to work with your computer and if there are multiple ways to view the native m2ts file.


      Picture Motion Browser (Sony PMB) takes the hard work out of sorting the biggest media collection. With Picture Motion Browser, you can plays back AVCHD(m2ts) video files on most computers. You can automatically organise pictures and movies into folders or according to the date that they were shot, simply by importing them into your VAIO. Picture Motion Browser 3.x is also equipped with Highlight Index to detect and display highlights of movies.

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