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You can format a hard drive or USB flash disk specifically so that it will be compatible with both Mac OS X and Windows PC computers. Remember, formatting a drive erases all data contained on it so back up important files before proceeding. Drives format very quickly, though the total time taken will depend on the size of the drive. The resulting file system is compatible with all versions of Mac OS X, Windows 95, 98, Windows XP, Vista, 7, even Windows 8, it’s one of the most widely recognized and usable file system formats. If you only intend on using the drive on a Mac it’s recommended to format for Mac OS X use only using the journaled file system. I personally found exFAT faster than NTFS-3g drivers and handled large files, so it worked well for me.
I wish there was a universal filesystem everyone could use natively without these trappings on each individual OS. This is not possible because Microsoft and Apple work a lot to avoid Linux users being happy and doing everything more easily than they already do.
I used to format my drives using FAT32 for cross-platform compatibility between my Macs and PCs.
I have avoided exFat for the exact same reasons as noted by the posters above; extremely slow transfer rates.
I never messed with MBR and I can use a USB stick on Mac and Windows, doesn’t it format automatically when you go with NTFS or MSDOS? Setting to MBR is generally necessary when wanting to boot a drive with Windows, but you’re right some older versions will prefer to use Master Boot Record.
FAT32 may be universal-ish, but MS left it behind for good reasons besides the file size limit. Apple seemed to have no trouble reverse-engineering FAT compatibility (or did they license it?).

I agree with Killan, many a time I have formatted a fat32 drive for use with windows, only to have my Windows colleagues complain they can’t use it due to an incorrect partition table. In my opinion it’s absolutely ridiculous to use a file system which was designed for an operating system from the last century on our external media.
In my opinion it’s ridiculous to use a file system from the last century, which was designed for an old operating system and which is patented by Microsoft. How can I password encrypt my external hard drive when it’s format is MS-DOS so it can securely work on a PC and Mac?
I’m looking to do this as I want to use my external hdd on windows and mac, but what’s this thing about a partition?
Do I need to do this and if I do (so all the bases are covered), does it have any disadvantages? I did all the instructions and re-formatted my Internal SSD with lots of space to spare on both my OS X system and Windows BootCamp.
Though this excellent cross-platform compatible ability is unknown to many users, it’s not a complex process, and if you frequently use both a Mac and Windows PC you will find this particularly useful because any data, media, or files stored on the the drive will always be accessible from any operating system.
This makes FAT an ideal file system to use for USB flash drives or external hard drives that are intended for use in environments with multiple operating systems. Subscribe to the OSXDaily newsletter to get more of our great Apple tips, tricks, and important news delivered to your inbox! HFS+ can be used for Mac volumes, NTFS can be useed for Windows volumes and Ext3 and Ext4 can be used for Linux volumes.
I can burn a data CD (MP3 files on a data CD) and it just plays everywhere: in my car, in my DVD player, in every operating system.
They should have introduced a completely new, open and completely independent file system which is designed for external devices and is free to use by everyone. It supports very large files and (as far as I can see) isn’t licensed by anyone in particular.

It’d be great if there were only a very limited amount of different batteries, different cables and whatnot. You can create,delete,format,resize boot camp partition,repartition without any data loss, can make bootable DVD by Stellar partition manager. I was planning to use them but now I am convinced that Apple is interested in creating compatibility issues, worse that microsoft, so I am switching to Linux. The primary downside to using FAT32 is the file size limit, which limits files on the drive to being 4GB in size or less. There should be no need for Mac OS X to support NTFS, Ext3 and Ext4 and there should be no need for Windows to support HFS+, Ext3 and Ext4. There should be a file system which is designed for external media and supports large files and large volumes, just like all other modern file systems.
Almost all external devices you buy (hard drives, USB key, flash cards, etc) are pre-formatted as FAT (because it’s the only file system which works on almost every device they have to use FAT), so some money goes to Microsoft for almost every external device you buy. Means if one want to transfer movie or any stuff greater than 4gb it can’t be done in this format. If you require single files to be larger than 4GB, use exFAT instead, though you will lose some compatibility with older versions of OS X and Windows. It’s a real irritation when even worn-out old Windows XP machines are four times faster or even better.

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