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.

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