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I used to be a PC, now becoming a Mac.
October 22, 2009 8:30 AM   Subscribe

Switching from PC to a Mac. For those who have done it: What do you wish you had known then that you know now? I know this type question has been asked before, but it looks like it's been a while. So, give me your advice warnings, horror stories, revelations, etc.
posted by te1contar to Technology (41 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Use your normal two button pc mouse. Here's a list of Keyboard shortcuts
posted by tylerfulltilt at 8:35 AM on October 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

Currently all Mac from being a hard core Windows guy. A few things:

1) Parallels is worth the $100. Sometimes you just need a program that is Windows only and Boot Camp is a great idea but inconvenient to need to reboot all the time.
1a) Being based on UNIX there are a lot of Open Source (ie Free) alternatives for Windows applications. Look into them. Several are cross platform such as 7-Zip for compressed RAR files, etc. and FileZilla for FTP.

2) iPhoto is such a great tool, but it really has the ability to consume your hard drive like a virus. Photos you import by default go into this library that can quickly become unwieldy. Plus as Windows users we will want the ability to navigate a directory to see them and aren't able to. There are many workarounds for this (you can set iPhoto to not import, you can export regularly, or you can get used to it) but how you do it is personal preference.

3) The Mac OS lies! You install a program and while navigating your directories it LOOKS like each application is just one file. It's a scam! Each application is actually a secret folder with all the required files for that program inside. This can be important when moving data etc.

4) Apple Key + Tab = Application switch, similar to Alt + Tab in Windows.

5) Time Machine can be a lifesaver. Get an external hard drive and you can back up automatically and effortlessly. It's not 100%, it's not an off-site backup, but it works.

6) If you're keeping some Windows machines on a network, networking Macs and Windows machines can be tricky. Something to be aware of. There are settings to enable Windows networking on your Mac, etc. To much to detail here but it's readily available via a Google search.

7) OSX has a built in screenshot ability that puts Windows' to shame. It's AppleKey+Shift+4 and you can choose the area of the monitor to take an image of.
7a) This feature is disabled when playing DVDs. To take screenshots of DVDs check out this link:

8) Give yourself 60 days. It took me that long to get used to (a) the File bar always being up top, not connected to the window, and changing per application. (b) the way to use Finder to get to all my applications. (c) everything on the desktop aligning to the right rather than the left.

Good luck! I'm happy to have made the switch but it took a little bit of time of me NOT feeling like master of my computer for a while.
posted by arniec at 8:43 AM on October 22, 2009 [7 favorites]

I switched in December last year, after having used Windows since 3.11.

It took about 2 weeks to feel comfortable to the point where Windows XP seemed awkward.

There are a few niggles, but nowhere near what I put up with earlier.

Spotlight is six kinds of amazing, and saves me a lot of time. Finder is horrible, but I don't really use it much.

Do get an external harddrive and run Time Machine for automated backups.

Do not get a Mighty Mouse. They're positively awful, and stop working within 4 months. The new one looks shiny though (Magic Mouse?). No support for two concurrent monitors was also a bit of a drag, but I work around it. The glossy screen (Macbook Alu) is a pain in the ass during the day (editing photos), but I have an external monitor back home. Battery charging takes forever. That's off the top of my head.

I have no regrets whatsoever with switching. I don't evangelize, but if someone asks my opinion, I call it like I see it: it more or less just works the way I want it to. The build quality on the macbook laptops is amazing.

Snow Leopard has the Chinese trackpad input system from the iPhone (ctrl+shift+space) which, as a Chinese student, I find to be the greatest single improvement with this release. 挺好!

Hope this helps. And a pre-emptive welcome to the "creative" Black Turtleneck Battalion.
posted by flippant at 8:44 AM on October 22, 2009

Windows is document centrice, OSX is application centric. This took me a little while to get used to. I really wish I could port the MBP touch pad to every other laptop.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:46 AM on October 22, 2009

Had a PC for 10+ years, now full-on Mac dude.

1. Learn to depend on Spotlight. It's the handiest little thing ever.
2. keep your Windows mouse - I have a USB wireless mouse and it is light-years ahead of the Apple mouse.
3. Give yourself about a month to get comfortable with the different keyboard shortcuts - it'll be really frustrating at first, but it's just a matter of acclimatization.
4. Apple+Tab switches between windows, but it only brings up the window you select if that window has not previously been minimized. It's a minor thing, but really annoying, even after 2 years of Macdom.
5. Time Machine is sorta good for an emergency, but the astounding complete and utter lack of configurability of the thing (it's either on or it's off; when it's on, it backs up every hour) means that your storage drive will fill up fast if you're not paying attention.

I think the thing I like the best about Macs is that, for lack of a better way to put it, they just plain work. You plug it in, turn it on, and off it goes - I have never had to update a driver, reconfigure a peripheral, or "trick" it into doing something I needed to do. After years of fighting with a PC, I cannot tell you enough how awesome this is.
posted by pdb at 8:56 AM on October 22, 2009

@pdb, re: #5-- You can schedule time machine backups with these: link or link (I don't use time machine but saw it on Lifehacker)
posted by sharkfu at 9:08 AM on October 22, 2009

I was always more of a Mac user, but one thing a lot of people don't know: there are free alternatives to many of Apple's built-in programs that are way better. Adium instead of iChat for instant messaging, iTerm instead of the horrible Apple Terminal, Skim instead of Preview for reading PDFs.

If Unix stuff doesn't scare you, you can use MacPorts or Fink to install an enormous amount of software for free.
posted by k. at 9:21 AM on October 22, 2009

Mainly a Mac person since the 80's, but I've trained/helped enough Windows immigrants to notice what helps them to learn/use/trust:

1) Seconding: use Time Machine, Spotlight, and Command-Tab as much as you can.

2) If you use a mouse: System Prefs > Expose: add "middle mouse button" to the available ways to invoke "All Windows". Just do it. And then use your middle mouse button (usually that means clicking the wheel in) to switch between programs. It's.... amazingly nice.

2a) Yup, that Mighty Mouse sucked. Luckily it's now dead, and the Magic Mouse is the new standard. I haven't touched one yet, but it looks promising, with its left/right/middle/double clicking, invisible scroll wheel and so on. Less cutting edge but reliable: I use regular old Logitech optical/wheel mice and have no complaints.

2b) If you use a trackpad: enable two-finger scrolling and tap-to-click. MacBook trackpads are so much nicer than any Windows one I've ever touched that manipulating things is a relative joy.

3) Turn on "Show and Hide Dock automatically" (System Prefs > Dock) so it doesn't waste an inch of your screen when you're not using it.

4) Yes, you can download and install that random application you found on the Internet without worrying about viruses or spyware. Yes, go ahead.

4a) Yes, you can. Really. If you don't like something, throw it away. No "uninstaller" needed. You can download and try thirty programs in the next hour, worry-free. Go ahead.

4b) Well, okay, not pirated bogus malware from l33thaX0r websites, duh. But anything real is fine. If you're paranoid, use Apple's shareware finder: they screen apps.

5) You don't need a virus program or any firewall other than the built-in one, and most such products are just for paranoiacs who don't realize this. You can also pretty much forget about drivers and patches now, too, other than the System Updates.

5a) If you're paranoid and don't believe you can run without a firewall now, check out the shareware app Little Snitch. It's fun to run, because it shows you so many nifty things happening in the background that you wouldn't know about otherwise.

6) Dashboard is nice, and there are about sixty thousand useful widgets.

7) Safari is a very good browser. I still use and prefer Firefox, though.

8) Even if you hated iTunes in Windows, give it another shot: the Mac version is sooooo much faster and nicer. No surprise where Apple's priorities are.

9) Pages (part of iWork) is a decent word processor. Keynote is better than PowerPoint. But even the decent Numbers spreadsheet isn't as good as Excel, so if you use spreadsheets, you'll probably still want (the Mac version of) Excel.

10) Read all the old AskMe questions on how to use your new Mac! Rich soup.
posted by rokusan at 9:28 AM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have been a Mac user for 25 years but have helped my mother and most recently my wife switch. If you use Outlook and have a lot of contact info and such that you want to transfer to Mac Mail, I found the best option was the program O2M. I tried Mail2Mac but it was more difficult (needed to be installed on both machines) and I never got it to work. They were good about giving me a refund, though.

I actually like the Mighty Mouse and have had very little trouble with it (I have 3 of them, 2 corded and one cordless) other than the scroll ball sticking, which is easily fixed with a blast of compressed air from a can. But then again, I also liked the universally despised hockey puck mouse, so my sense of ergonomics is a little off. I look forward to trying out the magic mouse, though.
posted by TedW at 9:56 AM on October 22, 2009

No support for two concurrent monitors was also a bit of a drag

What? Macs have supported up to 7 monitors since, um... 1987, I think.

Granted, some models have a shortage of ports/slots to add that many without spending a fortune, but it's definitely "supported".
posted by rokusan at 10:00 AM on October 22, 2009

Two keyboard shortcuts that I use multiple times a day:

CTRL+click=right click (for trackpads)

The delete key is actually backspace. If you want to do a forward delete, hold the function (fn) key while deleting.

Spotlight is great. Quicksilver is better. Here are some links to get you started.
posted by jalexc at 10:17 AM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

You can move the dock to the left or right. 1) We read down and scan down as we scroll, and 2) screens are wider than they are tall. It is dumb reserve space at the bottom and leave the sides empty.
posted by cmiller at 10:35 AM on October 22, 2009

I moved to a mac after using windows since before it was even released. I am thrilled with my mac book pro but there are some things I can give you a head's up with:

File conversion, particularly of email folders is tricky. Buy a cheap coversion tool like 02M.
I still rely on some programs on my windows machine that I haven't managed to duplicate on the mac.
Everything seemed mysterious and backwards for a month or more until I learned how to work the mac. The os X website has terrific videos showing you how to use the features.
Like most others, I found time machine effortless and even fun to use.
Forget about having to worry about viruses

Enjoy your new Mac!
posted by bfoster at 10:41 AM on October 22, 2009

If you don't want to pay the $100 for Parallels or VMWare, there is VirtualBox.

There are also a number of Word Processing programs that are less feature-rich than MSWord, but IMO considerably better-designed. Nisus is more traditionally WISYWIG, Mellel is worth looking at if you are a strict style-oriented junkie, Scriviner is more story-board oriented, and some people swear by Pages.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:50 AM on October 22, 2009

The delete key is actually backspace. If you want to do a forward delete, hold the function (fn) key while deleting.

Must be a laptop or baby-size keyboard. The grown-up, full-size Apple keyboards (like this one here) have both flavors of delete, normal-backward and weird-ass forward.

(Who deletes things they haven't typed yet? Crazy time traveler people, that's who.)
posted by rokusan at 10:55 AM on October 22, 2009

You can move the dock to the left or right. 1) We read down and scan down as we scroll, and 2) screens are wider than they are tall. It is dumb reserve space at the bottom and leave the sides empty.

Personal preference, obviously, but the UI logic here doesn't hold water. If the dock is auto-hiding, it's not "reserved" space. My windows always go right to the bottom, but my dock is still at the bottom too. No problems, no waste.

I don't mind the idea/feel of it side-mounted, but as you say, screens are much wider than they are tall, so I could only fit half as many apps if I put the thing sideways.... or the same number of apps at teeny tiny annoying size.

But sure, a new Mac user should try both.
posted by rokusan at 10:58 AM on October 22, 2009

3) Turn on "Show and Hide Dock automatically" (System Prefs > Dock) so it doesn't waste an inch of your screen when you're not using it.

If the dock is auto-hiding, it's not "reserved" space.
posted by rokusan

I know a lot of mac users, and very, very few have it auto hide. It drives me crazy. The second that it takes to appear. The visual cues that I miss because it's not there.

It is personal preference, but if you don't hide your dock, and the great majority do NOT, then it does hold water to keep it on the side, though the larger the monitor, the less it matters.

On a 13 inch macbook having the dock on the side makes sense. The OP should try all configurations, of course. Some user simply prefer the symmetry of having the dock at the bottom.
posted by Dennis Murphy at 11:10 AM on October 22, 2009

Thanks for all the tips. There seems to be a lot of good info here.

FWIW it is a 13" white Macbook.
posted by te1contar at 11:45 AM on October 22, 2009

I agree about Quicksilver. I use it to mostly replace the Dock and Spotlight (which I turned off).

Using a Mac without QS is now rather frustrating...
posted by sindark at 11:55 AM on October 22, 2009

"Do not get a Mighty Mouse."

I agree. My wireless Mighty Mouse is in a box in my basement. My $20 Microsoft optical mouse is much more reliable.

Also, people are right to praise Time Machine. It is a lifesaver.
posted by sindark at 11:56 AM on October 22, 2009

"Time Machine is sorta good for an emergency, but the astounding complete and utter lack of configurability of the thing (it's either on or it's off; when it's on, it backs up every hour"

I keep my external HD unplugged, then plug it in about once a day for a Time Machine backup.

I also plug it in after putting important information onto my Mac, like a big collection of important photos.
posted by sindark at 11:58 AM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

A few dock things (I like the dock, but I hate the defaults, probably partially due to being accustomed to the Windows task bar):

If you miss having something like the "start menu" to start applications, just drag the Applications folder into the dock. I also prefer it to be displayed as a folder rather than a stack (the default), so right-click on it in the dock and choose 'display as folder'. I also put my Downloads folder in the dock, which makes for very quick access to stuff I download using whatever application.

I vastly prefer the dock on the side of the screen. I really don't understand why Apple put it at the bottom and taking up so much space... it's always covered by other windows unless auto-hide is on, which has its own problems.

If you prefer not to have minimized windows get their own icon at the bottom of the dock and instead get melded into the application icon, enable 'Minimize windows into application icon' in the dock preferences. This feels a bit more like the Windows way of doing it. This is a new feature in Snow leopard.
posted by Emanuel at 11:59 AM on October 22, 2009

Love {Shift Command 4} for quickly taking pics of my screen.

I also use {Command +} a LOT, to make the font larger on my screen. Being over 40 sucks.

Firefox is my browser of choice.

Dock is on the left side. My son shrinks his down to tiny (it magnifies when you run the cursor over it), but I haven't found the need to do that.

Here are some of the apps I really find helpful with my Mac since I switched from Windows:

If you like to move/delete/rename applications and are used to Windows, Appcleaner is a great friend. Finds all those little additional files arniec mentioned.

Notational Velocity. Get it now. Been told about it for years, finally did it, love it for all kinds of reasons. Could really help when you want to keep track of how you do things now/how you did things on Windows.

I keep my digital pics manageable with Resize! You can resize whole folders full of images in one step.

Mactracker. Database for everything Apple.
posted by misha at 12:02 PM on October 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Quicksilver is just awesome. VMware Fusion rocks too.
posted by santaliqueur at 12:28 PM on October 22, 2009

Quicksilver and Spotlight do two very different things and really shouldn't be confused with each other (although they often are.) They can complement each other.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:43 PM on October 22, 2009

Enlighten me KirkJobSluder.
posted by te1contar at 12:58 PM on October 22, 2009

I would strongly recommend that you get Mac OS/X Leopard The Missing Manual (or the Snow Leopard version when it comes out) by David Pogue. It made my transition much easier. Read a bit of it and then skim for what you need. A nice chapter on the transition from Windows to the Mac. I still use it as a reference to various things that I use once in a while or just to dig into things further.

Networking is awesome.

If you are more technically inclined, the UNIX underpinnings offer immense scope and power.

I find Mac OS/X Tips from worth getting (free). Good troubleshooting tips that you might run into and an interesting source of "I didn't know you could do that!".
posted by PickeringPete at 1:02 PM on October 22, 2009

A lot of my favorite things already got mentioned (Quicksilver rules!) so here are a few more apps:

iStat menus are awesome for keeping track of various things going on with your computer. I keep just the memory usage and upload/download speed in my menubar, but you can select whatever you want to see. Clicking on the visible stats shows you further details and other menus to boot.

Smultron is a great tabbed text editor for the Mac. I use it as a replacement for Editpad Classic, which was one of my favorite Windows applications. Sometimes you just want to have several plain-text tabs open for copy-pasting urls, fiddling with html snippets, and drafting emails/online posts.

I also like Breakaway, which has saved me from embarrassment in the classroom/library several times. It's a little application that can automatically mute your sound when you unplug something from your headphone jack, if you choose to. Re-plug and the volume setting you had for your headphones is restored. It basically creates two volume settings for your computer, one for when you have your headphones (or any other device) plugged in, and one for when they're not. Great for when you accidentally get your headphones unplugged and you've been listening to questionable pop, the Hebrew version of "Thank God I'm a Country Boy," etc.
posted by cobwebberies at 1:18 PM on October 22, 2009

Here's what freaked me out when I moved over in 2006:

There's no 'Delete' key, at least not on Mac laptops. If you want to delete things to the right of the cursor, you have to hit function-backspace. (Which on Macs is inexplicably labelled 'delete'.) Being a writer, this kind of made me hit the roof. I paid $2,000 for a top-notch laptop that doesn't have a delete key?

As it turns out, I adapted just fine. (Never trust a writer who attributes his failings to the lack of a delete key, anyways.)

Also, a handy hint: On widescreen Macs (and most are), put the Dock on the right (or left)-hand side of the screen. It works really well. Why? Because on widescreen computers, vertical space is at a premium and horizontal space is copious. I never understood the rush to widescreen in a world where webpages and documents are all vertical, but there you go.

One last thing I only just recently learned: OS X gets slow if you let free drive space drop below 6 GB. Give it some breathing room, and it'll give you the smoothest ride you've ever seen.
posted by bicyclefish at 1:20 PM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I didn't really "get" why Quicksilver was such a convenient application/whatever launcher until I saw this screencast, which takes you through the basics and lets you see how it functions on one guy's computer. Their Angelina Jolie desktop is a little distracting, though.
posted by cobwebberies at 1:22 PM on October 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Spotlight is a content indexing API. Command-space and the little magnifying glass icon in the upper-right corner is just one user interface for that index. (Not always the best one for the job, but there you go.) Quicksilver is a "quick-launch" utility that indexes filenames in selected folders and allows you to perform other operations. I think it used to be possible to do Spotlight searches within Quicksilver, but that functionality seems to be missing from my current version. Quicksilver is generally faster if you know the filename, Spotlight works better if you don't know the filename but do know some of the content. Or you need to create boolean searches.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:28 PM on October 22, 2009

Smart folders use spotlight for example.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:31 PM on October 22, 2009

Command-space is the best thing ever.

Launch any app with command-space and then the first couple of letters of the app's name. Wish I'd known that as soon as I switched.
posted by pompomtom at 3:45 PM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you use Outlook's Web Access, it's not going to display correctly in anything besides Internet Explorer (which conveniently isn't available for Macs anymore).

Oh also, Quicksilver is da bomb!
posted by radioamy at 3:57 PM on October 22, 2009

1. Backup: Install, configure and let SuperDuper do its thing to an external (or 2) hard drive. It makes a bootable backup of your shiny new Mac's hard drive. Use alongside or instead of TimeMachine (I use it alongside and backup to 2 external hard-drives each night). Runs like a champ and just plain works.

2. WordProcessing: Bean for everyday text-cranking. It's light, fast and free. And it doesn't have that gawd-awful interface of OpenOffice. As for longer, more complex stuff, I still haven't decided whether it's OpenOffice Writer or Pages '09; silly or not, I absolutely refuse to put any M$ app on my MBP.

3. Backspace = Function + Delete. If they had room for 12 F keys, I don't why they couldn't have snuck in at least a tiny little backspace key.

4. Learn the Command and Alt/Option key bindings, especially if on a MB or MBP.
posted by webhund at 6:55 PM on October 22, 2009

Writing from a more basic skill level than most people here, I've found 'hot corners' kind of handy for when I want to do all those useful Exposé things quickly. In practice the only ones I actually use are the equivalents of F11 (sweeps all windows away from the desktop*) and F12 (brings up Dashboard--I only have about 4 things on it, but I use all of them frequently). Switch off the one you keep accidentally going into when you're using the Dock.

System Prefs > Dashboard & Exposé.

* "Who keeps anything on their desktop?", I hear people ask, after seeing that guy's nothing-but-me-and-Angelina desktop in the demonstration of Quicksilver...
posted by lapsangsouchong at 7:11 PM on October 22, 2009

I was using a mac for the past year and Spotlight drove me crazy when I wanted to find a new file that had not been indexed yet. Never found a good solution but it helped to at least know that it wasn't going to find stuff.

For backup and synchronization, check out Sync!Sync!Sync!

Also being back on PC now, I miss Organized.
posted by ropeladder at 9:06 PM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

I find completely disabling Spotlight to be the best option. It isn't useful for me (I can remember where I saved files), and find it annoying. It is especially annoying when it tries to index external HDs.

For loading applications, Quicksilver is perfect.
posted by sindark at 7:32 AM on October 23, 2009

Mac devotee here, who has only used Windows at work. But...

I have heard so many times from Windows users that there is no way to tweak and customize Macs. Please keep in mind that there are so many ways to customize your Mac experience, you need only look. These little tips and tricks are not collected and handed to you in the manual. If there is something you wish you could do, do a little search online. Chances are you'll find what you need.

Oh, yes! Get David Pogue's book. He's great. I relied so much on his first OS X Missing Manual, when I made the switch from OS 9.

Also, remember that Macs are awesome, but not perfect. There are certain hardware issues that have come up over the years that have made me nuts. In this way, computers are computers. But you will have so few issues with a Mac compared to a Windows computer. 99% of the time Macs just work.

And that 1% where they don't? Instead of the Blue Screen of Death, you will become familiar with the Spinning Beach Ball from Hell. ;)
posted by shifafa at 10:53 AM on October 23, 2009

Mac & Windows user. Recently switched back to Windows at home for reasons not currently relevant, but still use a Mac at work.

1: I find Spotlight search to be nearly useless for anything: search is more or less a straight substring match with no word combinations and isn't displayed in a format that's very useful. I ditched it for Google search, which by contrast can display the results in a browser window where you can edit and retry them like... well, like Google, and affords more options for customizing the search.

2: Firefox will give you far more features and functionality than Safari. But Firefox on a Mac is a massive memory and process hog, so Safari is noticeably faster. Pick based on whether speed or features is more important to you.

3: DO NOT try to rely on BootCamp if you need to use Windows apps. It will make you crazy. I use Parallels; never tried anything else, but there are other recommendations in this thread. It will be worth it.

4: DO get an external hard drive and create a Time Machine backup on it. It pretty much Just Works, with the minor exception of when you upgrade your system hard drive.

5: There's really no practical alternative to iTunes right now, AFAICS. Unless you really really hate iTunes, don't kill yourself looking for something else.

6: While OS X comes with a compress/decompress utility as part of the system, you will occasionally need something to decompress other formats. You don't need that right away, though.

7: If you are doing web development, you can save yourself a lot of configuration hassle by using MAMP to implement your Apache+PHP+MySQL stack.

8: Networked printers often won't work right unless you enable AppleTalk in the Network control panel.

9: I personally find Apple's desktop widget implementation nearly useless: Can't copy and paste from a lot of them, and you can only see them as an overlay on a special keypress -- can't park them at edge of screen or have them float over your apps or appear on your desktop. You can get a more Windows-/Linux-like implementation by installing Opera. AFAICS, Google has not yet implemented their widgets on OS X yet.

10: Finally, if you work with long narrative documents (e.g. stories or books), Scrivener is fantastic: Simple, with portable data (it's all RTF files), and very good for organizing writing projects using a folder-like interface. It's what I used before I switched back to Windows, and it's the one thing I miss from using the Mac in my home environment.
posted by lodurr at 11:49 AM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also, for those times when you can't figure out how to fix or do something, this site has been my savior more often than any other:
posted by lodurr at 11:51 AM on October 28, 2009

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