Mac OS X To Windows 7 Switch: Part One

If you've been a long-time Mac user, sitting in front of a Windows machine can be quite confusing. In this instalment of our switching guide, I take a look at the Windows interface and translate between OS X and Windows 7.

Although Windows 7 and OS X share some similarities, they are quite different in how they do some things. That said, most things that you can do on a Mac can be done on a PC - they're just done a little differently.

Today is all about translating your Mac experience into Windows proficiency.

Window Management

Truth be told, those little red, amber and green buttons on the top left corner of an application on a Mac are confusing to me. Depending on the program you're using they do different things. Under Windows, the functionally similar buttons appear on the top right corner on a Windows application. And they behave the same way in every application.

Under Windows, the minimise button - the one that looks like a line across the bottom of the box - reduces the window and "hides" it on the Taskbar (the strip of icons running across the bottom of the screen). It works similarly to the amber button that shrinks things to the Dock on a Mac.

The cross in the right corner on Windows closes the window. If that Window is a program - it shuts the program down completely.

The middle button looks like a square. This is the maximise/restore button and it's used to toggle between two modes. If a window is taking up the entire screen, clicking this button will make the window resizable and moveable. Press it again and the window fill the entire screen.

If you've been using OS X Lion, you'll probably have discovered that you can resize a window by dragging the border on any edge of a window. Windows users have been doing that for years.

One last thing - with Windows 7, if you drag a window to the top edge of the screen it will automatically maximise to take up the entire screen. If you drag to the left or right edge, the window will automatically snap to that edge and fill half the screen. This is the Snap feature. It takes some getting used to but is very handy when you're arranging windows on the screen.

Finder vs Explorer and file management

One a Mac, you do most of your file management using the Finder. On Windows, it's all about Explorer.

With Windows, each drive that is connected to your computer is assigned a letter. By default, the primary hard drive (the one with the operating system) is designated the letter "C" (because in the old days A and B were taken by floppy drives). The C drive is equivalent to the Macintosh HD you see on a Mac desktop or in Finder

You then have folders and sub-folders within that for organising files. When you insert a thumb-drive or connect to a network drive (which is a shared folder on a server) it will be designated the next available letter.

To create folders in Windows, just use the New Folder button that appears in the Explorer screen when you are looking at a list of files.

So, that's it for Part One of the OS X to Windows translator. Part Two will be here tomorrow. I'll look at customising, security and applications.


    You can also pull tabs out of a browser like IE or Chrome and place it on your second monitor, opening in its own window and you can even snap it if you like. Not sure if Mac does this or not...

      I imagine this is a feature of the browsers, not the operating system..?

        It works in tandem with the snap of Windows which is great because its one action to have it windowed or full screen.

    I wouldn't mind a fully fleshed out article in the reverse of this. I seem to be the guy that people come to with computer problems, yet whenever someone brings me a Mac I'm stumped.

      +1 Husky.

      My friends have asked if I could PLEASE get a Mac so I can help them troubleshoot. I'm starting to learn my way around them - there is nothing you can't Google! - but I'm still pretty clueless.

      +1 also

      So much ridiculous shouting about intuitiveness when they cross to Mac. So much quiet whispering when the simplest thing doesn't work and they bring it to me to fix. I've never sat at a Mac other than to diagnose problems.


    Your reply to their request:

    I was under the impression that "it just works".

      God I wish lifehacker had a like button for comments... +1

      +1. I guess the Genius Bar and Applecare would not exist if that were true :P

      +1 lol

    Mac apps like iTunes that run on Windows rarely obey Windows system conventions. Even the simple window resizing on the title bar and borders don't work as they should.

    For years iTunes has also been a terrible Windows citizen by ignoring local rules for managing file extensions. Look at all the screaming when a Windows app isn't Mac enough - but little care from Apple going the other way.

    The Mac is full of secret menu commands that you only see when holding option. Then again Windows has some similar things when you hold shift (e.g. shift and right click on a program shortcut to bring up the option to run as administrator). The Mac also has a whole hidden sub-system like windows has the command window (ex DOS). Windows drives can also hide the letter and be seen just by their name, just like Mac. So really on many levels they're equally complex.

    And Windows hasn't always done the drag to top to maximise - that came with Windows 7 I think, and can be added using third party programs to earlier versions. It has done the double click on the top bar of the window to maximise since Windows 3.1 I think.

    Windows and Mac have slowly become ever similar as both Apple and Microsoft aim towards a similar Operating System. Theres essentially no difference - or if there is one you can just run a program to get it, like Bettersnaptool on mac instead of window's snap. Or Rocketdock on windows for a mac. Right now all it comes down to (for the end user) is what apps work for each OS.

    One question... Why on earth would you switch to Windows from OSX?!

      No one in their right mind would switch from a Mac running OSX 10.4 or greater. I deplore the PC and reformatted my HD back to XP. Win 7 made me nuts. I have however converted 4 people to mac this year and they love it. They have not had ANY problems.

        I recently did - there are reasons. A quick summary of mine:
        1. Found Lion to be horrid.
        2. New work (funnily enough, everyone else runs mac, but I run windows because of my specific job), I want to be able to do work on my home computer & switching OSes all the time was getting to me.
        3. Windows 7 is solid.
        4. OneNote is amazing.

        That said I know I am in the minority, and most people won't hate Lion as much as me (I think I was the only person in the world using spaces in 10.6).

    Haha, I have never met anyone who had used a mac before windows 7, I mean, there are PC's everywhere and i'd doubt that anyone who has a mac hasn't used window.

    But thats just me, I guess I haven't met enough people :P

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