Ask LH: How Can I Learn To Switch From Windows To Mac?

Ask LH: How Can I Learn To Switch From Windows To Mac?

Dear Lifehacker, After decades of faithful Windows service, I’m beginning to feel the pull of an Apple machine. Specifically, I’m thinking of retiring my bulky Windows laptop in exchange for the MacBook Air. The sleek design, long battery life, and minimal bulk all have me keen to try it out. But I’m worried about the transition from Windows 8 to Mac. I’m keen to try new things, and become Mac literate. How can I make the transition as painless as possible? Thanks, Windows to Mac

Picture: Getty Images

Dear WTM,

Since Windows has been the dominant operating system for close to two decades (and still outsells Macs by a large margin), the switching challenge is a common one. There are a few things to bear in mind.

It has to be said: the similarities between Windows and Mac outweigh their differences. Both use a graphical interface controlled by a mouse. Both let you run multiple applications at once. And in a world where much of what we do is in the browser, the operating system often takes second place.

That said, you should definitely allow some time to get up to speed. If you’re a seasoned Windows user, there are many small tricks you’ll be used to that either won’t work on a Mac or need to be handled differently. Just getting used to the window controls being on the left rather than right can take a while for some people.

We’ve published a number of guides on Lifehacker that can definitely help you through the journey. First and foremost, there’s our MacBook Migrant series, which looks at the key differences between Windows and Mac that you’ll need to get used to, including the most useful keyboard shortcuts, how Finder differs from Explorer, how apps are installed and uninstalled, and useful system tweaks to help you shift. This is written from the perspective of an experienced Windows user, so it should match up to your own experience well. Follow that with our guide to how to get the best Windows features on a Mac.

Also worth remembering: Windows runs well on a MacBook Air. You can boot straight into Windows using Boot Camp (you’ll need to buy a separate licence), or integrate Windows more closely by using Parallels. If you find the Mac hardware appealing but feel more productive in Windows, you can easily own a Macbook that runs Windows all the time.

A final word of advice? Avoid zealotry. Both operating systems works well, both have their merits, and both have their flaws. Changing from one to the other takes time, not because one is “better” than the other, but because we need time to adapt to change. Enjoy your Air!

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • Macs are great hardware, if not a little pricey for what you get.
    One of the biggest gripes I have about OS X was window management, why can’t it have proper maximizing like Linux and windows?

    • I once heard a friend of mine claim that it’s because “you don’t need it” as “OSX has a better window manager.”

      My issue is the idea that menus for a program aren’t attached to a window from that program, but always appear at the top of the screen, and change when you happen to change focus to a different window. I’ve always considered that a big usability flaw ever since I first saw it in primary school on the PowerMac type systems (I’m now 28 years old), and they haven’t bothered to fix it yet. Oh, and you can close the only window for the program, but the program itself is still running, even though there’s usually no way to get a GUI for that program back.

      • Since I transitioned from a PC to Mac about 1.5 years ago, I’ve gotten quite used to the menus being at the top of the screen, and it no longer bothers me at all. Similarly, I don’t actually mind the window-vs-application separation, mainly because many applications have multiple windows (e.g. browsers, word processors, etc) so it actually makes sense to me.

        I agree with @GreyWolf in that the inability to minimise and maximise properly is extremely frustrating. Likewise, not having the ability to easily assign a window to half the screen (like in Windows 7) becomes fairly frustrating fairly quickly.
        Having multiple desktops is brilliant, and one of the big things that will prevent me returning to Windows. Expose is likewise great, and very quick compared to the applications on windows which provide the same functionality.

        There are a range of other frustrations on Macs to get used to as well. For example, try assigning a keyboard shortcut to lock the computer without having to assign a password to waking from the screen saver. Here’s a hint: you do it by writing several AppleScripts to emulate keystrokes to go through the menus and hit enter. Also, Finder for browsing the file system is an unmitigated disaster. The behaviour of pasting into part of the file system is bizarre (it pastes to the folder you have open, not the folder you have selected). The default behaviour when pasting a folder to somewhere which already has a folder of that name is to paste over the top of the folder (i.e. delete the one already there), not merge the two. The ‘merge’ option only appeared very, very recently – as did the equivalent of ‘cut and paste’ in the file system. I can’t say enough how awful Finder is.

        That aside, it is by and large an excellent OS on really excellent hardware – particularly if you have previous BSD (or to a lesser extent, Linux) experience.

          • There are indeed ways (and I have used a couple), but unfortunately none of them perform nearly as well as multi-desktop configurations on OS X or on Linux in my experience. I imagine that is because Windows is not designed for them so doesn’t have relevant optimisations where the other OSs do.

          • Actually I use a program called virtuawin, and it’s worked flawlessly for years now. Never had a problem even once.

            I think the menu bar is ok though, Ubuntu has the same thing now and I got used to it just fine, but I agree with Ogre that applications staying open after you close the window is annoying.

            Also maybe I’m just OCD, but the finder behaviour of not automatically arranging things in a grid and having overlapping icons also annoys me to no end.

          • Yeah, I used to use Virtuawin but just never found it as effective as native support. That said, it was better than not having it at all.

            With Finder: You can get it to sort files into non-overlapping icons, but not ‘force’ it in the way you can with windows. For file browsing, though, I just think finder is an abomination against UIs.

        • Windows 7 far outshines OSX in my opinion for the file browser, Win7 start menu, and the task bar. The dock is a very VERY poor alternative. That said, you’d be hard pressed to make me give up my macs.

          I was working for an ad agency prior to OSX coming out and at the time loathed AppleOS (then MacOS8 & 9). I was a windows person all the way. It took until OSX 10.4 for me to even start considering it half ok/usable as an OS. These days, it’s my OS of choice for a home/personal machine.

          In that time, there wasn’t a single problem I’ve experience with a Windows OS computer that I haven’t also experienced with an Apple/MacOS computer. Drivers, networking, fragmentation, corruptions, you name it, I’ve had it with both. Anyone who claims one side or the other “just works” doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

          Other than games, there’s really not much difference between either OS these days. They can both do it all. What it does come down to in the end is what you’re comfortable with. The best thing to do is see if you can find someone you can borrow a machine off for a week, or spend a fair bit of time in an apple store and just see how comfortable you feel using it.

          If you’re comfortable with OSX, great, get a mac.

          If you’re not comfortable with OSX, great, get a Win8 netbook!

          There’s plenty that are just as light, last as long, just as powerful, for about the same price as a MacBook Air.

          Either way, you end up with something great really. Ignore the rabid fanbois. It’s great for you and you alone, and that’s all that matters.

          • I mostly agree, and in fact I’d say that on OS X some of the annoyances are far worse because it can be harder to get around them, simply because the OS is not as configurable as Windows.

            I don’t mind the dock because I almost never use it, I use spotlight to load applications. That probably works for me because on Windows I used Launchy, which is pretty similar. I also don’t miss the taskbar, because I find Expose better. This did surprise me, because I used to turn off ‘grouping’ in the task bar because it drove me crazy.

            That said, when you do need to find an application you don’t use any more, the start menu can be much nicer than the Mac application menu – but only if you carefully structure it, I think.

            I don’t agree that there isn’t much difference between either OS, but rather that each has advantages and disadvantages and neither are clearly better than the other.
            One advantage I appreciate in OS X, though, is that it seems to take longer to get bogged down and need a wipe. I think a big part of that is that OS X doesn’t have the kind of support for shell extensions (e.g. right-click file-type-specific addons) that Windows does. The result is that you miss out on some neat functionality, but every application under the sun can’t install it’s crappy and poorly designed shell extension. One can argue that these can be avoided by being selective about what you install, but I find not having the feature works well for me.

            I also prefer the Mac hardware, mainly because of the higher screen pixel densities. My favorite screen was actually a 1920×1200 15.4 inch LCD on a Dell, but in 13 inch displays the Macbook Air is definitely (in my opinion) the nicest. In fact, I wouldn’t even change to a 13-inch Macbook Pro because of the poorer screen resolution.

        • Look in the app store for BetterSnapTool. Once this is installed and configured it is way better than Windows version for placing & managing windows.

          • Yeah, I should.
            When one of the reviewers says “This is the cheese. Mac OS is intolerable without it.” I can see where they are coming from =)

      • I recently made the change myself. Change focus to an app with CMD+Tab, and the menu bar at top changes to the menu for that app. Close the app with CMD+Q [Quit].
        Yes, I also wish the red button on the corner quit the app instead of just the window. But it’s not that great a change.

    • proper maximizing? That is simply a question of design. Actually Mac OS X is better in my opinion because it resizes to the optimum size, not just to fill your screen. Safari for example resizes its window to the size intended for the website whereas firefox just adds (white) padding to the sides of the website.

      if you find yourself constantly resizing your windows on Mac OS, then your might need a bigger monitor (maybe?).

      You can also install third party software which can do the resizing for you.

  • I bought my first Mac about six months ago – the first Apple I’ve used since the II e (showing my age there). It took a few days to get used to some of the basics (like finding available disk space), but you’ll find it’s relatively painless – after all it’s just an operating system. The interesting stuff is what sits atop!

    One thing that has helped is to remember that most software that you’ve used in Windows will now use the CMD key rather than CTRL in shortcuts… (e.g. “paste” is now CMD+V )

  • I tried this about four years ago – for what I needed, they didn’t have the (fairly basic) software I was used to, and the lack of real delete/backspace keys (MBP) drove me insane, so I moved back.

  • Finder Destroys me. Its the one part of MAC that just isnt logical and simple to me. I cant believe that since this seems to be one of the top bitches on any forum why hasnt it been fixed yet.

    The other part that kills me is when you need to specify a folder or directory path from a program you generally need to type it out. There is rarely ever a ability to click and browse to that location and select.

    If anyone knows of a good after mkt alternative please please post

  • I use pcs and macs in work and personal life and imho I still very much prefer pcs simply because its far more flexible in many aspects. For one, many applications just don’t work on macs. Of course, with the advent of Apple’s popularity apps have become extremely popular and development of apps have seen many amazing/useful/novel software and programs developed on Macs only – so its almost a 50/50 in my opinion.
    Nevertheless, I can’t deny the simplicity and ease of use in Macs, not to mention the form factor. I don’t think you’ll have much problems transitioning from PC to Macs – it took me slightly less than a day to get the hang of everything, but probably about an hour to get used to using it.

  • Two words for screen/window management in OSX – ‘Cinch’ and ‘SizeUp’.

    Nothing else compares. Once you have them, you’ll never look back.

  • “How Can I Learn To Switch From Windows To Mac?”

    Knock yourself on the head with a brick a couple hundred times.

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