How To Get Windows' Best Features On Mac OS X

Whether you've just switched to Mac or you're secretly a little jealous of Windows 7 features, there are some things Mac OS X just doesn't do that Windows handles beautifully. Here's how to get Windows' best features on your Mac.People talk about "Mac Envy" a lot, but you hear a lot less about Windows jealousy — even though Windows has some pretty drool-worthy features. Whether it's the productivity-boosting Aero Snap or the ability to fully maximise windows with the click of a button, here's how to get some of our favourite Windows features on OS X. (If you're a Windows user, too, be sure to check out how to get Mac OS X's best features on your Windows PC, too).

A lot of the apps mentioned in this post are, unfortunately, shareware. I looked for free options and found a few where noted, but almost everything here is a paid app. As such, you may not want to rush off and buy all of these, but check out their free trials and see which ones actually make your life easier. And remember: $US7 may seem like a lot for an app, but if it's something you'll use every day and makes your life easier, it might not be so bad.

True Window Maximisation

One of Mac OS X's most annoying features is the lack of true window maximisation. That is, when you click the maximisation button — the little green one in the corner of your windows — only some applications actually maximise to fill up your monitor. Instead, many just stretch to fit the contents of the window. This can be nice, but if you want to focus on just one thing, or if you just need more space for whatever you're working on, you have to resize the window manually.

Previously mentioned RightZoom is a simple tool that changes the behaviour of the green button, causing it to always maximise the window. It isn't perfect (since it then gets rid of the old behaviour, which is sometimes good), but it's the best free option we've found (and you can customise it to get the best of both worlds). You can alternatively grab Flexiglass, will maximise only when you right-click on the button, but it's $US7.99. It also has a few other window management features though, which we'll talk about in a moment.

Window Previews

When you hover over a taskbar icon in Windows 7, it shows a tiny preview of all the windows open in that program, which is great for quickly bringing one into focus (or un-minimising it). In OS X, you can right click on a dock icon to see the open windows, but the lack of thumbnails makes it hard to distinguish between them. (You can also click and hold on an app to get an Exposé of its windows, but that isn't quite the same). If you'd prefer a more Windows-like behaviour, the previously mentioned $13 Hyperdock will give it to you. You can hover over dock icons, close windows right from there, and get a ton of other window management features (which we'll talk about in a moment) right from its preference pane. This is one of my favourite OS X enhancers — easily some of the best $13 I've spent in the Mac App Store.

Aero Snap's Window Snapping (and Then Some)

Windows 7's Aero Snap feature is a godsend for anyone who needs to work in multiple windows at once. By clicking and dragging a window to the edge of the screen, you could "snap" them to fit half the screen and use them side-by-side. You can also drag a window to the top of the screen to maximise it. There are a number of different tools that do this for OS X, but they all have a different mix of features, so you'll want to pick the one that works best for you. Here are our favourites:

  • Hyperdock: This brings window snapping to OS X by both clicking and dragging windows and keyboard shortcuts. In addition, it has the window preview feature mentioned above, as well as the ability to move and resize windows from anywhere — not just the titlebar or window corner (another feature we miss from Windows).
  • Flexiglass: Flexiglass is also $13, but has a slightly different feature set than Hyperdock. It too can snap windows, as well as move and resize them from anywhere. However, it also adds the ability to fully maximise windows by right-clicking the green plus button, as well as quit apps by right-clicking the red x button, two features that Windows users on OS X will probably miss. It doesn't, sadly, have the window previews in the dock, so you'll either have to buy both apps or decide which features are more important to you. Again, both should have free trials available.
  • Cinch: If you'd rather not buy an app, you can grab Cinch. Cinch is technically $US7, but it's nagware, meaning you can run it forever for free as long as you don't mind a request to buy every time you launch it. Cinch adds the drag-and-snap feature to OS X, but doesn't include keyboard shortcuts. For that you'd need...
  • SizeUp: From the same developers as Cinch, SizeUp is a program that lets you snap windows, maximise them, move them to different monitors, and otherwise manage them with keyboard shortcuts. It doesn't include the drag-and-snap features of Cinch and the others, but if you're only going to use keyboard shortcuts anyways, it's perfect. Again, it's $US7, but runs free as nagware if you prefer.

Cut and Paste in the Finder

In Windows Explorer, you can cut and paste files all you want, but for some reason Mac OS X's Finder only lets you copy and paste files — no cutting allowed. There's a very easy way to get this functionality on OS X, though: previously mentioned MoveAddict will add keyboard shortcuts for cut and paste to the Finder, and as long as you only want to move one file at a time, you can do it for free. If you want to cut and paste large batches of files, though, you'll need to shell out $10 for the program.

Get a Better Window Switcher

Cmd+Tab is a fine app switcher for something that's built-in, but if you're more used to how Windows does it, you'll probably get frustrated pretty quickly. It only switches between apps, not windows, and if you have any windows that are minimised or hidden, Cmd+Tab won't open them up unless you learn some hand-cramping new shortcuts. If you'd like a more powerful window switcher, Witch is a pretty good choice — although not exactly cheap at $US14. However, it does give you a more Windows-like switcher, with a full list of open windows, thumbnails of each one, and some serious shortcuts (not to mention configurability). If you use Cmd+Tab a lot but aren't satisfied with the built-in offering, you'll probably find Witch is a very powerful program well worth the cash.

Get Windows-Style Keyboard Shortcuts

If you just feel that your hand is too cramped reaching for Command instead of Control, or your Windows muscle memory is too great, you can use DoubleCommand to remap some of your keys in OS X. It can remap a whole host of things, some of the most useful being Ctrl, Cmd and Alt. So, switching Cmd and Ctrl, for example, means that you'll go back to the Windows-style Ctrl+C shortcut for copy, Ctrl+V for paste, etc. They're small tweaks, but if you're used to Windows (or if you're forced to use Windows at work), it's nice to get back to the keyboard shortcuts that you're used to.

You'll never be able to get Mac OS X working exactly like Windows, though I don't expect most Mac users would want to. Thankfully, with just a few simple tools and tweaks, you can get the Windows features that do matter on your Mac. Got any of your own favourite features we skipped over? Let us know how you brought them over to OS X in the comments.


Comments

    Bought a Macbook air recently. I've gotta admit that I and other family members were quite surprised how many features were 'missing' in OSX compared to win7. Take true maximisation of windows!!!! In return I can't think of a single OSX feature that I would want in win7.

    I'm not trolling, I just realise how sophisticated win7 has become. I can't imagine OSX surviving in a busy work environment.

      Que - Agree:

      [Disclosure - I have both a 15inch MBP, iPad and iPhone, but continue to use a ThinkPad T61 with Windows 7 for serious work]

      I have tried numerous times over the years to move to the mac for serious work. Office 2011 and Dropbox helped alot, but I still am just way more productive in Windows (in particular Windows 7).

      I often try to pin down why; i think its partly the variance in windows management (having to use a combination of Command+TAB and Command+~ to get to the right window, and the fact that not all windows are visible in the dock is part of the problem).

      However I believe the biggest problem is with file management and in particular the "Save" dialogue box - on the mac, no matter how humongous the screen is, the dialogue box is still the same size it was on my 512k Mac back in 1985! Sure you can resize it, but it doesn't remember it - and some programs even open the dialogue fully collapsed (defaulting to the last save location or Documents only).

      On Windows the dialogue box is big, remembers my preference for icons or details and has very convenient and consistent configurable hot links down the left hand side in almost every app (a few apps dont show these, but 95% do). The ability to alter the file structure (e.g. delete a wrong folder or make a new one) using Right click context menus in windows is also a huge plus.

      And if your wondering, I would save at least 20 - 30 files a day, mainly removing attachments out of outlook, so its certainly a noticeable hurdle.

      If someone can suggest an addon program that enhances the mac dialogue box across all programs, i'll hug you!

      If not, someone let Steve know how to fix the dialogoue box!

      Rob

        I don't use a Mac, but maybe something like Quicksilver to open the destination folder quickly and then just drag and drop?

        @ rob - if you like all those features about windows 7, why use a MAC OS?

        doesnt make sense!

          Chris - because there are good things about Mac OS - like the Unix shell, more control over routing/IP, faster startup, better sleep management and better hardware!

          At @Angrypeanut - i would love to use bootcamp, but for some reason on my generation hardware both Vista and Windows 7 bluescreen or hang on first booth (then if you power off and boot again it works) - so infeasible :( plus the drivers for powermanagement arent as good as the mac native ones (bad battery life, high temps)

          Rob

        I was the same Rob, Hence why I tried OSX but bootcamped my macbook with Windows 7 and now have a very sexy and awesome laptop with a nice and usuable Win 7

        Best of both worlds

    So why can you get all of those Mac features on Windows for free but to get Windows features on Mac you have to shell out even more money?

    I got my first Mac a few months back and I really love the design and everything but as this article states all these features is what I'm missing! Aero snap windows is golden when multi-tasking and Maximize function.
    Also I don't understand the Mac is quite expensive product, but there are NON free apps really. When use to Windows/Linux where you can find many really nice apps for free. I mean everything on a Mac costs.

    Cheers everyone, have a nice day

    I use shiftit for window management (free):
    https://github.com/fikovnik/ShiftIt

    I also installed http://www.mucommander.com/ for my wife, so she can delete files from SD Cards/USB drives without emptying the Trash. It is a good Finder replacement for WindowsCommander users.

    The lack of these features and even earlier Windows features like Tile or Cascade Windows were deal breakers for me from the word go. I bought a Macbook Pro which came with Tiger for my wife to use at college. At the time if you went looking for solutions to these ludicrous omissions the Mac Fanbois would scream at you that this is not how the Mac was supposed to work. So here we are years later and FINALLY these features are available via add-ons. But I see that thanks to "Lion" we'll soon be able to enjoy window resizing via any part of the outside of the window. OSX is truly retarded.

    Window snapping is the only feature on this list I couldn't be without on my Mac. I use SizeUp and it is very useful, especially with multiple monitors. It also allows me to maximise windows when I want to, without changing the function of the green button (which I find to be better 90% of the time - it's the apps that DO maximise when I press it that annoy me).

    As for the other features, I try to like the Aero Peek on Windows 7 but every time I use 7 I miss expose. And I've really never understood the fascination with resizing from anywhere, doesn't seem like that big a deal.

    The inability to cut in finder has always perplexed me, but I won't be paying $10 for the privilege

    Que, keep in mind that you're experiencing your new Mac with a Windows mindset. The lack of true maximisation has been around for longer than Windows of any kind has, and it has its reasons. Ultimately, it has been left in the developer's hands to define the "maximum" window size. Often that's just enough to fit the contents. The philosophy is, why go bigger than that, and potentially obscure other windows or the desktop? It's the same reason the window borders are so thin and the app/window relationship is so well defined - you're expected to overlap windows! As you bonus, you can toggle between "big enough" and a size you define.

    But I do use Win7 all day long at work and Aero Snap on multi-monitors is awesome. Win7 definitely has elements of sophistication.

    I just want to provide a small but important correction on the Command-Tab functionality. It certainly does cycle through hidden apps, and not cycling through minimised windows is a deliberate feature - minimising on OS X is for putting a window away, not for temporarily hiding it. Switchers often fall into the trap of being trigger happy on the minimise button. Learn to use hide, or just obscure the window for a less painful experience!

    And finally, command-tab needs to be used in conjunction with command-tilde (they're right next to each other). Command-tab to the right app and then command-tilde to the right window. Life is so much better when you don't fight the OS into submitting to existing habits!

    My biggest qualm with Mac OS X since I moved across was the inability to cut/paste files.

    TotalFinder fixed that :-)

    I was a Windoze user for about 15 years and currently a Mac user for 10 years. When I switched, I had similar issues regarding usability too. But it was only because I was use to doing things a certain way. There's usually a whole lota steps to do things on Windows, not so on Mac.

    Cut & Paste is the long way to move files. Think that's why it's not included in the Finder. To move file/s, hold the Command key down as you drag the file to where you want it. To copy, hold the Option key instead. Less steps, more productive!

    Also, the advantage of not using full screen windows is that you can drag various elements between apps and others areas, eg drag an image from a web page straight into a document, more productivity.

      The flaw in this argument is that for some of us, using the keyboard is more productive than using the mouse. I personally struggle to see how holding down a key and also dragging is faster than just using the keyboard.

    Hi Angus,
    It's nice to have choices and solutions. Choose what's good for you.

    It really is a mind shift when switching to Mac. The Mac interface was designed to allow the user to focus on the outcome with a more enjoyable experience along the way, much less to learn. The Windows interface focusses the user on the process, much more to learn, so less emphasis on the outcome and experience along the way.

      Choice is definitely good. I think like most generalisations, there would be plenty of counter-examples to your claim about the relative merits of both systems. At the end of the day, I don't find the Mac interface more enjoyable than Windows, and telling me it is designed to be more enjoyable doesn't change that.

    I've been many years longer on a Mac than I've been on Windows. I STILL miss true window maximisation, window snapping, tile or cascade windows, cut and paste in Finder, but what I miss most of all is the ability to DELETE OR RENAME FILES while in the save dialogue window. It makes organising so much easier. Please leave a reply if you know how that can be done.

    Very useful article. Thanks.

      Delete or rename files OR FOLDERS for that matter. I don't know why we can create a new folder but can't delete it in save dialogue box. I suppose we should all aspire to be flawless in our typing?

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