I've been using Apple Computer's Mac OS X on a daily basis for about a year and a half. Although I prefer Windows XP overall, Mac OS X is a viable operating environment for many people, including consumers, graphics professionals, and even UNIX geeks who want a more mainstream system than Linux offers. Mac OS X's strengths, of course, are its excellent digital-media experiences and the rock-solid nature of its UNIX-like underpinnings. But one of the biggest problems with Mac OS X has always been the difficulty of moving important settings, email, personal information manager (PIM) data, and certain types of documents from the PC to the Macintosh. I've struggled with this problem for more than a year. But two new software products have addressed these concerns.

Before I talk about those products, however, I'd like to quickly discuss a problem I have with Apple's Switch campaign, in which the company is trying to convince Windows users to abandon Microsoft's platform and move to the Mac. I don't believe that most people will be happy making the switch because many of the applications, services, and capabilities Windows users take for granted simply aren't 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 who want to augment their existing PCs, a Mac would make a fine choice in many situations. The problem facing these half-hearted converts, however, is the same problem people who replace PCs with Macs face. How do you get your important information from the PC to the Mac?

Although Windows applications can't make the conversion, many Windows document types work fine on the Mac. You can copy Microsoft Word documents and other Microsoft Office documents to a recordable CD or transfer them by email or through your network, and they'll work fine in most 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 PIM data from the PC to the Mac. In fact, I've spent the better part of a year trying to automate a way to copy this data to the Mac. For example, I'd like to easily copy Microsoft 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 almost every conceivable method with mixed results. Then, just a few short weeks ago, two extremely effective solutions arrived that solve these problems.

The first, Move2Mac, is a hardware and software solution from Detto Technologies, maker of IntelliMover, a solution similar to Move2Mac 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 Mac executable that starts the copy process. You can use Move2Mac to perform an enormous data dump in one pass or simply copy individual items on the fly.

Move2Mac works well, although the initial version works only with Outlook Express-format email. (The company offers a free copy of Netscape 7.0 for both the Mac and the PC and instructions for using that tool to automatically copy mail from applications other than Outlook Express; an Outlook converter is in the works.) Move2Mac can also copy other document types, including word processing, spreadsheet, database, and graphics files; photo files; music files; movie files; folders; Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) Favorites and home page; Windows address book; and various system settings, such as the desktop background.

The bundled USB cable isn't interchangeable with other USB cables because it uses a special chip for the data transfer. Detto says that Move2Mac can copy 500MB of data in 20 minutes, although I transferred far less data 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 is an incomplete solution. Almost magically, the day I tested Move2Mac I discovered a new Little Machines' shareware application called Outlook2Mac. This wonderful application converts Outlook email, contacts, calendar appointments, and tasks to Mac-compatible formats and lets you place them in the appropriate Mac OS X applications. For example, Outlook2Mac can convert Outlook email to Apple Mail or Entourage, convert Outlook contacts into Apple Address Book, and convert Outlook Calendar appointments and tasks into Apple iCal or Entourage. Best of all, the software costs only $10 (although the price is expected to rise shortly) and is compatible with Outlook XP (2002), Outlook 2000, Outlook 98, and Outlook 97. Outlook2Mac is also compatible with other Mac OS X applications; check the Web site for details. It works amazingly well, although you'll have to figure out how to get the converted files from the PC to the Mac.

One final problem that might bug Mac switchers concerns moving data from the Mac back to the PC. Right now, neither of these products offers a way to move data in the reverse direction, which could be a problem for some people. I'd like to have that capability, if only because I like to take an iBook on business trips. However, this shortcoming probably isn't a huge concern for most home users.