Let’s face it. Despite how far we have come in the evolution of file systems, such as NTFS, ext4, and HFS+, one thing’s for certain, nothing seems to beat the old-school FAT32 file system for high interoperability between major operating systems with read-and-write capability (and a master file allocation table that doesn’t trash itself as easily as the newer exFAT can).

The unfortunate reality we all face is that, due to odd licensing arrangements and a thing I like to call “OS Nationalism,” most file systems tend to be built only for the operating system they were intended to run with and have either limited or no support on competing platforms. For instance, a drive formatted as NTFS for Windows is not write-capable on Mac OS X without some additional third-party drivers.

However, should you trust a third-party tool with your data if you were unsure about it? And even if you were okay with such additional software, this won’t exactly save you should you take your drive on the go and plug it into a shared machine without administrative privileges and aforementioned drivers.

Beyond 32GB

Despite FAT32’s shortcomings in terms of maximum file size limits, lack of ACLs, and disk quotas support, it’s good enough for basic sneaker-net type activities between operating systems. Unfortunately, when the user wants to prepare a drive for use in this fashion, there is one major problem: Windows cannot format drives and partitions larger than 32GB in FAT32.

You may even consider making a partition sized at 32GB initially and then resizing it to fill the rest of the empty space. But within Windows, using the basic storage tools to resize operations is not supported on file systems other than NTFS. The only solution that I have been able to find for this 32GB limit problem is a utility called FAT32 Format by Ridgecrop Consultants Ltd.

On first glance, FAT32 Format (the GUI version of the fat32format tool shown in Figure A) looks very similar to the normal format tool built into Windows. Just download this utility, run it, pick a drive or partition you wish to format, and presto! There isn’t much else to it.

Figure A

This is the GUI version of the fat32format tool.

FAT32 Format does require administrator privileges in order to mess around with any of your drives. Also, since FAT32 Format does not perform disk integrity checks on any newly formatted FAT32 spaces, it is advised to run the command “chkdsk /R x:” after the format, replacing “x:” with the appropriate drive letter in question. This process will take some time to complete, of course, so you might want to pop a cold one while you wait.

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