MacBook Migrant: Switching Strategies For Windows Power Users Moving To Mac

MacBook Migrant: Switching Strategies For Windows Power Users Moving To Mac

MacBook Migrant: Switching Strategies For Windows Power Users Moving To Mac Superficially, Windows and Mac environments offer a similar graphical interface, but if you’re an experienced Windows user, there’s more to learn than just that the Control key is mostly now the Command key. Throughout this week, MacBook Migrant will look at the tips and strategies Windows users moving to Mac can use to make the shift easier.

Longtime Lifehacker readers might remember that I actually started on a series of similar articles back in late 2009, but had to abandon them when the test Mac I was using proved to have a defective AirPort wireless card. Based on that experience, and to avoid a lot of unnecessary flame wars and general unpleasantness, I want to get these issues out of the way before we begin on the tips themselves:

This is not an argument about which platform is better. Both Apple and Microsoft platforms have their own vociferous supporters, and trying to change opinions on either side is, in my experience, a waste of time. Where the two platforms do things differently, there’s no real value in arguing about which approach is more “obvious” or “intuitive” or “better”. If you’re going to move from one platform to another, knowing the differences exist is useful; which approach you prefer is a personal decision.

This is not trying to suggest that Windows users should bring all their existing approaches with them. Bringing the attitude that “everything should work the way I’m used to” isn’t sensible in any computing endeavour, since it means you might miss out on much more productive alternatives. On the other hand, arguing that someone should (or could) throw out everything they’ve learnt and change their entire approach in one hit isn’t helpful either.

There are aspects of the Mac OS X environment that are quite different to Windows, and the only way to learn those will be to investigate and practice them. That doesn’t mean that knowing where the common ground is, or how you can do things in a more Windows-like way while you’re learning, isn’t useful.

The focus is on things which an experienced Windows user will find different. If your use of Windows hasn’t consisted of much more than connecting to the Internet, then the shift to the Mac environment possibly won’t require much more than getting used to window control boxes being on the left rather than the right. If you use Windows more intensively, then the differences will be more apparent.

Yes, there will be a lot of discussions of keyboard shortcuts. I use keyboard shortcuts all the time on Windows, and if I moved full-time onto the Mac I’d want to use them as much as possible on that platform. I’ve investigated this topic before, and from an experienced Windows user perspective, it’s clear that there are areas where the Mac offers excellent keyboard support (common universal shortcuts, the ability to set system-level shortcuts of your own) and areas where it doesn’t (browsing menus via accelerator keys, file management).

Again, the discussion isn’t about what’s “right” or “better”; it’s about what the actual options are. I recognise that the majority of computer users are heavily mouse-reliant, but keyboard shortcuts are a major productivity enhancer, especially if you largely work with text.

As with the original experiment, I’ll largely be working on a Mac (a loaner 13-inch MacBook Pro) during this week, since experience remains the best way of identifying where the differences are. (A side note I should have added earlier: I’ve called this series MacBook Migrant to reflect the hardware I’m using, but I want it to reflect the general OS X experience so there won’t be much of an emphasis on trackpad-only options.)

I’ll be concentrating on the features and software that come bundled with the OS, but will be installing other apps when it seems relevant or helpful. For instance, installing a new browser is always one of the first things I do on a Windows machine, and I’m bringing the same approach here. The time savings I’ll get out of having my bookmarks and other data synced (and the ability to conduct keyword bookmark searches) makes that worthwhile for me on a Mac as well.

If you’ve got any pointers for stuff potential or actual switchers should know about and that I should look into, share them in the comments.


  • I look forward to this ‘series’. I’ve been a long time Windows user and I’m curious about the Mac OS. I feel like a child whenever I get on a friends Macbook and would like to get up to speed on how to use them effectively.

    Eventually thinking about getting a Macbook, but until I’m sure about what I need it for, I’m sticking with my Windows 7 Vaio.

    • I highly recommend trying a hackintosh build. Long time Windows user, and long time Mac hater.. I built a Hackintosh, now I’m quite partial to both OSs.

      I would LOVE to be able to say “I want this feature, this feature, this feature, and this feature” from both, but alas, that’s not how it works heh.

  • can you please find out (or someone let me know)how to put any OSX application into fullscreen mode. In Windows, its sooo rudimentary and has been a core function since, well forever. Its extremely frustrating on her little 13inch macbook

    My web searches have come up empty for a universal window expander, and that full screen is only possible if the individual app allows it.

  • I suggest that you look into using AppleScript and either Alfred or Quicksilver to try and plug the gaps in OS X’s approach to keyboard navigation.

    Also, for those who want full screen support, or something resembling it, use Better Touch Tool and enable Windows 7 style window snapping. That will fullscreen any app dragged to the top of the screen, and make any app dragged to the left or right side of the screen occupy that half of the screen. Just like in Win7.

    Personally, I rarely fullscreen on Mac because it just doesn’t seem necessary. The app doesn’t need all of that space, so I don’t see why I need to give it that much space on my scree.

    • Quicksilver will definitely be getting a mention, though probably not a detailed runthrough. Thanks for the pointer to Better Touch Screen, I’ll check that out. As I’ve said before in this context: not everyone likes running apps maximised or fullscreen (not quite the same thing, BTW), which is fine, but it’s nice to have the choice to do so.

      • Alfred and Quicksilver seem to be the two apps that best solve the problems you’ve mentioned before about Macs being mouse orientated. I’d love to see the results of that part in particular.

        Better Touch Tool is pretty much the first thing I installed on my newest Mac (after using it for several months on my previous Mac). On top of the windows management feature, it adds even more versatility to the trackpad with custom gestures. So for someone like me, who uses the trackpad heavily, it is a godsend.

        And yes, I meant maximised, not full screen. My bad.

  • I am a pureblood Windows User.
    I’ve just purchased a MACBOOK PRO myself and am in the throws of going through this learning process.
    I more than agree that one should be open minded and its not a test of which is best.
    I would like to say that I miss my Windows 7 Snipping tool (yes I know you can Apple+Ctr+shift+4)

  • I use a Mac and Windows. They each have their strong points. One thing you’ll find missing in Mac is the Windows style hotkeys (Lock Window etc). In fact there is no way to lock your screen unless you do a screensaver hack.

    The other thing I noticed (as a business user) is the severe lack of support for Novell Networks which Windows has out of the box. So if you’re a government user, you need to buy something third party which sort of works…

    They both have their quirks but I am happy to use each of them.

    Steve, if you’re listening – put in a bloody lock for the screen!

    • Nice initials 🙂

      Screensaver hack? You can pretty easily set up a hot corner to activate the screensaver, and require it to use your system password to lock it down. Sure, it’s not a keyboard shortcut (although you may be able to use a third-party keyboard shortcut app to invoke it, I guess.) but it does work.

    • @AK

      Unfortunately not everything is obvious on the Mac, it took me many, many months to get used to it after I switched. But here is my solution for a quick and easy screen lock. Type the following into the AppleScript Editor and save it.

      do shell script “‘/System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras/’ -suspend > /dev/null”

      I then invoke this AppleScript from a hotkey which instantly locks the screen in the same manner as Windows.

      Alternatively, if you insall Alfred, you can just enter the command ‘LOCK’ and it will do the same.

      For the screen saver option. If you want to do this via AppleScript use the following line:

      tell application “ScreenSaverEngine” to activate

      Again, this can be tied to a hotkey. Or, use Angus’s solution with a hot corner.

  • Although Im a devoted Windows man myself (Win7, XBox, WP7 and all that) Ill be reading this series so I can more familiarise myself with the idiosyncrasies between platforms. . . and hopefully further justify my reasoning for sticking with Windows.

    Im hoping that in a few years Apple will stop being cool and people will come back to Windows. Ill be waiting here, drinks in hand, for your return. Or Ill die in my one man party.

  • As someone who uses both for work, I think something on good ‘replacement’ apps. E.g. TextMate / Notepad++ (i’m not sure what else, I have mostly cross platform stuff otherwise). Also some good mac apps, like QuikcSilver and Growl.

    Also the different storage locations. And the fact that it is a UNIX system underneath the hood, maybe some links to some good references.

    And I think applescript should get a mention.

  • I’ve been there and done that. I switched to a 15″ macbook a couple of years ago, and loved it. Unfortunately a couple of programs I needed couldn’t be replaced with OSX versions, and running under parallels seemed to slow things down a bit too much (I was trying to use AutoCAD – that’s a bit of a stretch). So now I use a Win7 machine for the grunty stuff at a desk, and the macbook whenever I want to travel or sit on a couch or be semi-mobile (the iPad has just come along to shake up the mix a bit).
    I found I missed little things from both systems, and could have lived with either one or the other.

  • Been there and done that.

    Threw out the silly Apple mouse (wow there is a victory of style over substance) and suddenly everything seemed better.

    What beat me in the end was the poor quality of all things Mac: my garage is littered with dead and dying apple products and quite frankly, Windows 7 is superb.

  • @Angus,

    One thing that I find really nice on Windows 7 that is missing from OS X is the Aero Peek facilty of the toolbar and Window snapping.

    You may not think much of it as that is a mouse centric facility, but it is pretty handy when added to OS X’s Dock, and it’s called Hyperdock. It also adds configurable keyboard shortcuts 🙂

    It’s available at

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