Help a longtime Mac user switch to Windows.
May 20, 2013 10:20 AM   Subscribe

I haven't used Windows since the year 2000, but a new job means this longtime Mac user needs to learn how to. A couple specifics related to image editing and task management software plus general words of wisdom/ encouragement requested within.

In addition to the general feeling of at-seaness of starting a demanding new job, I find myself needing to learn a new OS: Windows 7, used in a large institution context, with all the Outlook, help ticketing and other systems stuff that implies. I've always been a Mac person (and in fact was the de facto IT guy for some small teams I've worked on in Mac shops), and find myself fighting decades of muscle memory and maybe even a little prejudice in this switch. So, my questions:

1. One of my first tasks is creating a set of images (photos overlaid with text, nothing too fancy really) that will live on a couple lobby computers as screen savers and be given to a retiring employee on a digital picture frame. On my Mac, I would fire up Keynote, size the slides pixelwise a couple different ways, drop some nice text with a partially opaque background text box on 'em, and call it a day. Here on my Windows 7 machine, I tried PowerPoint (sizes only in inches?), Paint (no transparency on text boxes?), and spent a whole morning banging my head against the problem with unsatisfying results. I don't know Photoshop, and can't believe I really need it to do what I want to do. What software would you use to complete this (really, terribly simple) task on a PC?

2. I'm a GTD person, and have happily used OmniFocus for the past several years to manage tasks. I'm trying out ThinkingRock right now, but it seems like more than I need (I generally just use projects/ tasks, start and due dates, and contexts) and that added complexity makes for more time-consuming data entry. Also, it's ugly. Do you have a favorite GTD app for Windows? Bonus points for iPhone syncing. Bonus bonus points for full cross platform so I can use it on my home Mac, too.

3. More generally, are there apps it took you a while to find, but now love, when switching from Mac to PC? Are there apps that have no Mac equivalent that you love on your Windows machine? Are there shortcuts (keyboard or otherwise) that you can't live without that you wish someone had told you about right away?

Any help much, much appreciated. Thanks!
posted by hwickline to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Imagewise, you can do what you want for free with Paint.Net or Gimp (both of which have UIs that make this Photoshop user twitch, but hey- free).
posted by Jpfed at 10:37 AM on May 20, 2013

1. Gimp. Or, alternately, I love Photofiltre. The second link is a zip file. Very simple, very easy to use. I find the text editing a lot easier on Photofiltre than Gimp.

3. I will always recommend Launchy. It's a keystroke launcher that I've heard compared to Quicksilver (never used quicksilver personally.)
posted by trogdole at 10:46 AM on May 20, 2013

1. Paint.NET is really quite good.

3. WINDOWS KEY-TAB to flip between programs with preview is a nice one. WIN KEY-D to minimize all to desktop, WIN-L to log out, WIN-E to launch Explorer.

For general encouragement; Windows has improved a (to me at least) shocking amount in recent years, Windows 7 is extremely stable (I push my workstation very hard, tons of ram and tons of programs running and it pretty much refuses to choke) and nicely thought out to the point that I honestly prefer it to my Mac.
posted by Cosine at 10:49 AM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

nthing Paint.Net

Also, to be a bit pedantic, Win-L locks the workstation as opposed to logging out.
posted by ElDiabloConQueso at 11:03 AM on May 20, 2013

Cosine's keyboard shortcuts are good to know; if your computer doesn't have a windows key, you can also use alt-tab to switch between windows with a (much less fancy) preview.

Alt-F4 asks the currently running application to close. If there is no currently running application (or if the desktop has focus), Alt-F4 brings up the dialog that lets you choose among various shutdown/restart/logout options.

7zip is great for creating/unpacking archives, although maybe Windows 7 has that built in nowadays.

If you need a good, free text editor, but don't want to learn emacs or vim, try notepad++.

If you for some reason need to edit audio, everyone else seems to love Audacity but I prefer Goldwave.

If you don't want to download all this individually, you can grab a bunch of software at once by going to and selecting what you want. This will create a windows installer for everything you've selected.
posted by Jpfed at 11:07 AM on May 20, 2013

I'm not actually a Windows person, but for your task 1 I would use Inkscape, which is available (and free) on Windows. It's a vector drawing program, so more akin to Illustrator than Photoshop, but it's happy to work in pixel units and export to bitmaps. For things like overlaying translucent text I find its interface a lot more straightforward than the Gimp's.
posted by pont at 11:28 AM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I do a lot of image work and I like as well. I think PowerPoint will do what you want, however, if you can get past the no pixel measurement thing.

The Secret Weapon, which wraps GTD into Evernote was recommended around here in the past year. I think it will do what you want, and definitely has all the cross-platformyness you could desire.

I like Format Factory is you ever need to convert videos from one filetype to another.

I use SnagIt a lot, but that might just be my weird workflow.

Windows Key + Tab doesn't work on my Windows 7 machine.
posted by jeoc at 11:38 AM on May 20, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for the responses so far, and please do keep 'em coming. This is exactly what I was looking for...
posted by hwickline at 11:47 AM on May 20, 2013

To drop text on an image, even MSPaint will work. When the text tool is selected, there's a set of 2 icons added to the tools - transparent or opaque background. However, I'd probably install just because it has many more features, and better control.

MSWord has some additional picture editing capacity, like editing color saturation, as well as the occasionally useful WordArt.

Lifehacker has quite useful articles on both Windows and Macs; some browsing may be helpful.
posted by theora55 at 12:04 PM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Win+[1-9] will launch applications pinned on the taskbar. Hold down Win and press the same number to switch between application windows.
posted by dobi at 12:06 PM on May 20, 2013

One shortcut I use all the time on my laptop is Windows key + left arrow or Windows key + right arrow. It tiles the active Window to take up exactly one half of the screen (either left or right). It's really useful when I'm working in two programs simultaneously and need to see them both (since you don't exactly have Expose).
posted by itsamermaid at 12:36 PM on May 20, 2013

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