Converting Awkward Windows File Formats on a Mac

Converting Awkward Windows File Formats on a Mac

WMV and WMA (and even more arcane Windows file formats) are sometimes quite hard to convert natively into Mac-usable files. There are just some file types, Windows mostly, that Macs just can’t use. Using a combination of apps and online tools, there is some hope for those difficult files and for the most part, you can do it for free.

In this article, we discuss handling alien file formats like those from a PC which have no Mac equivalents, and the various tools offline and online that can help to make files from other systems usable on the Mac.

Weird Files

One of the biggest concerns PC users migrating to Mac have is that while the Mac uses most common file formats such as MP3, DOC, JPG, PNG, WAV, PDF, etc. ,there are some Windows files which have yet to find any currency on the Mac.

Chief among these are the Windows Media formats like Windows Media Video (WMV) and Windows Media Audio (WMA). Other wrapper formats like ASF, the laughably misnamed “Advanced Systems Format”, also cause problems. You will encounter these formats in older media players and digital video devices, and while they are falling out of use now, they still crop up with depressing regularity.

While we wait for them to die a natural death, we have to arm ourselves with a suite of tools to convert them, and if possible, not spend a lot of money in the process.

Fortunately there are some online tools which can help, and we’ll talk about that in a minute. But what about the pro or paid options?

Plugins and Pro tools

Flip4Mac from Telestream offers one of the most seamless experiences, bolting into the Mac’s Quicktime system and allowing not only playback but conversion of awkward Windows file formats. Unfortunately while the player on its own is only $5.95, the Pro player which enables you to convert and edit is $29. This rises sharply to $179 if you want to load, convert and encode HD videos.

Flip4Mac - Play Windows media files on your Mac.

Sadly, the only other option of a solution integrated into the operating system (until recently at least) was Perian, but while free, this is no longer supported. You can still download the latest version, allowing access to many arcane Windows formats, but as the formats change, Perian will not keep up, and already it’s not as good as it was. Perian is worth getting and installing if you don’t have it, but it doesn’t address any of the really difficult formats in the way that Flip4Mac does.

Perian - The swiss-army knife of QuickTime components.

The problem with integrated options for file handling is that they need installing, updating, and as we’ve seen with Perian, can be abandoned potentially leaving us high and dry.


Better in many ways than options which need installation are online solutions. There are numerous options, but some are shady and provide you with more advertising than service, yet some are good solid tools.

Zamzar- Free online file conversion.

Sounding like a magic word from the Arabian Nights, Zamzar is a good online conversion service which apparently covers around 1200 different pairs of conversions, Video, Audio, Music, eBook, Image, and CAD files. The downside is that you can only convert files of 100MB and smaller unless you pay them a few bucks a month.

Using Zamzar goes like so: you can either type in a URL to a file:

Select files or URL to convert.

or upload a file from your computer. Next, choose the format to convert to:

Choose the format to convert to.

and enter your email address to receive converted files:

Enter your email address.

then click “Convert.” Once you’ve clicked the button, the file will be converted and an email will be sent to you to tell you it’s done and can be downloaded.

While Zamzar is comprehensive, some people have had experiences of files being unable to be converted or blank on occasions, but it is a Swiss army knife tool; some of the blades will be blunter than others. Plus they are farming your email address, so potentially that’s a spam leak.

Free File Convert

With a higher file limit of 300Mb, another good choice is Free File Converter.

Free File Converter - Convert your files into different formats.

Similar to Zamzar, you select the URL or file you want to convert, pick a format and click “Convert.” Unlike Zamzar, it doesn’t farm your email address. Instead, it presents you with a link on the page to download your file.

File conversion complete.

It covers a range of file formats covering video, audio and text, and also as a bonus has a decent stab at ripping videos from popular video services like Dailymotion, as a side benefit.

Although focussed entirely on audio file types, one of the goto sites is, a spartan interface concentrating on the most important file conversions between MP3, WAV, WMA and OGG. - Online audio converter.

Simply upload the file you want converted:

Upload the file you want to convert.

and select the output format:

Select the output format.

If available, select the quality of the outputted file:

Select the quality of the output file.

and press “Convert”:

Press the 'convert' button.

This is one of the cleanest and most workmanlike converters, and it always provides very true and accurate conversions with no apparent limits as to file sizes.

What files do you find it hard to deal with on the Mac? And more importantly, what are your favourite solutions? Let us know in the comments below.

Photo Credit: Chad Routh

Phil South
Phil South

Phil South has been writing about tech subjects for over 30 years. Starting out with Your Sinclair magazine in the 80s, and then MacUser and Computer Shopper. He's designed user interfaces for groundbreaking music software, been the technical editor on film making and visual effects books for Elsevier, and helped create the MTE YouTube Channel. He lives and works in South Wales, UK.

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