Becoming a switch hitter...
June 3, 2006 9:49 AM   Subscribe

Help me make the PC to Mac switch. A few specific questions from a complete Mac newbie.

1) Is there a WinAmp-like program of Mac OS? (I *hate* iTunes)
2) Any experience with Open Office for Mac OS? Is it a good replacement for MS Office?
3) Any indespensible Mac OS software (like the Mac version of Powertools?)
4) Mac websites/blogs that will help me get used to the new world (I know about CultofMac, theAppleBlog, MacDeveloper)
5) How on Earth am I supposed to import all my old e-mail and stuff? (I've only got Office for Windows)
6) Are there any Spyware programs I should get?

(Of course, I have extensively read the dozen similar Mac-switch questions here (thanks to those who answered there too), and just asked questions that I felt were not answered.)
posted by ruwan to Computers & Internet (38 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
1. in 'our' defense, mac itunes is alot nicer to you than windows itunes.
1, 3 & 4. Macupdate
5. Most email programs allow you to export data, and apple mail imports a wide variety of formats.
posted by psyward at 9:57 AM on June 3, 2006

Regarding 1, I can't say -- I'm a convert myself, but I used iTunes, and its absence is one of the reasons I moved away from Linux.

Regarding 2, No experience, sorry.

3: Depends on what type of user you are -- you don't indicate whether you're an artist, web/mail user, textie, or developer, or some combination of all four.

Given that lack of information, I recommend the following crosscut of software:

QuickSilver - a launcher loaded with plugins and goodness of all kinds.
Adium - instant messenger
SubEthaEdit (too lazy to link the rest, sorry) - Text editor both collaborative and solo. Slick tool.
Transmit and Unison, both from Panic - FTP and Usenet clients second to none.
VitaminSee - One of the few good image viewers I've been able to find.
Cocktail - this is the utility suite I would recommend.
Transmission - Bittorrent client. Not super-loaded with function, but small and fast.
Growl - This one is used by many apps as a notification framework, and everyone should have it.
4: The unofficial Apple Weblog ( and - it's not pure apple, but it's pretty quicksilver-boosty. Also for software. versiontracker and
5: Can't help you there. OfficeX might do that, though :)
6: Oh, hell yes. I recommend... Nah, can't really say. Be aware that many mac programs are prone to phoning home. I forgot a ciritical piece of software you should get, thinking of that: Little Snitch, which is analogous to ZoneAlarm's outgoing connection protection.

Hope this helps.
posted by ChrisR at 9:58 AM on June 3, 2006 [2 favorites]

1) Is there a WinAmp-like program of Mac OS? (I *hate* iTunes)

MacAmp Lite X

2) Any experience with Open Office for Mac OS? Is it a good replacement for MS Office?

No, but you might look into Pages. Open Office and Star Office are not good at compatibility with MS Office formats, unless you stick with Rich Text Format.

3) Any indespensible Mac OS software (like the Mac version of Powertools?)

Most of Powertools is either unnecessary on a Mac, or said utilities (file system checking) are packaged with the operating system.

4) Mac websites/blogs that will help me get used to the new world (I know about CultofMac, theAppleBlog, MacDeveloper)

Macintouch is probably the best site out there to keep on touch of what's new and needs answering.

5) How on Earth am I supposed to import all my old e-mail and stuff? (I've only got Office for Windows)

If you're using Outlook, Apple Mail will import Outlook email and addresses. You can also use Microsoft Entourage, which is packaged with Microsoft Office.

6) Are there any Spyware programs I should get?

Nope. Spyware does not exist for Mac OS X, nor do binary viruses. Microsoft Office macro viruses are a possibility but most macro viruses are written specifically to do damage on Windows systems, i.e. they can't run on a Mac.
posted by Mr. Six at 9:59 AM on June 3, 2006

Mr. Six, the mac virus assertion you make is not, in fact, true. New mac users (myself among them) should be aware that there is NO platform that is completely immune to viruses, especially ones that rely on social engineering to gain entry to the system.

This isn't to say that the Mac isn't a safer platform from an architectural standpoint -- the unix underpinnings of OSX provide it with a builtin level of protection against the privilege escalation attacks that make Windows as vulnerable as it is (I'd like to note, 4 years of Windows w/o virus scanner, except for annual installations and checks left me with 0 infections. Windows isn't bad if you're smart about it).

This trojan ((discussed at may not fit your definition of a binary virus, but the ease of plugging new functionality into Cocoa applications that makes developing new tools and toys for OSX apps makes the difference somewhat moot.

A google search will turn up more info.

In short, OSX is safer right now by virtue of low market penetration, and is likely to remain safer even as its market share grows by virtue of a better, fundamentally multi-user design. But this is no substitute for safe practices. Asserting to new mac users that no such thing exists is foolish at best, disingenuous and dishonest at worst. Acknowledge that there is no such thing as a perfectly secure personal computer, and teach good practices instead of blindly asserting the superiority of your platform of choice.
posted by ChrisR at 10:10 AM on June 3, 2006

Mr.Six: You are incorrect that there are no binary mac viruses. They're just rare.
posted by SpecialK at 10:13 AM on June 3, 2006

ChrisR beat me to it. :(
posted by SpecialK at 10:14 AM on June 3, 2006

SpecialK, what you linked to is called malware (or a trojan horse) not a virus. There hasn't been a binary Mac virus since 1997 or so. And in any case, there is no spyware to worry about.
posted by Mr. Six at 10:24 AM on June 3, 2006

You just keep depending on your safety blanket, Mr. Six.

In the meantime, essential Mac software:

* Little Snitch - Tells you when something's trying to 'phone home', and will catch any of that nonexistant spyware.
* OmniGraffle/OmniOutliner - A Visio-like application that actually works, and integrates with an excellent outlining/note-taking software.
* iTerm - If you live in a terminal, you'll like this much better than
* RemoteDesktopConnection - Lets you connect back to your windows computer, so you can put it in the closet where it belongs.
* if you're a PHP Developer: MAMP
* iBank - Great replacement for MS Money or Quicken to manage your bank accounts.
* Flip4Mac - Lets you watch WMV files in Safari or Firefox
posted by SpecialK at 10:31 AM on June 3, 2006

You just keep depending on your safety blanket, Mr. Six.

I'm only answering the OP's question, SpecialK. Please keep your answers on-topic.
posted by Mr. Six at 10:38 AM on June 3, 2006

I own 2 Macs and run two more at work, all are connected to the net. I have been using Macs since the 1991, I have never, ever, run AV software. I've never had a virus or experienced any sort of malicious behavior on my Macs. So, while there may examples of viruses and malware, encountering them in the wild is really very rare. Yeti and Unicorns are much more plentiful.

Simple precautions are a good idea (don't open attachments from strangers) but beyond that it's still pretty safe in Mac-land.
posted by doctor_negative at 10:38 AM on June 3, 2006

The whole debate about Mac viruses is just silly. Yes, ChrisR is technically correct that there's no reason viruses can't be made for the Mac, but the fact is they aren't, and for now there's really no reason to worry about them. You will hear about it when a successful virus appears for the Mac. Just use your firewall (comes with the OS) and be sensible.

Can't speak to OpenOffice, but the Mac version of Office is much better than the PC version. I don't really like Microsoft applications usually (I have to use IE, PowerPoint, and Word for Windows at my current gig and hate them), but Word for Mac is actually pretty decent. I have started to try out iWork and like it so far, but don't have enough experience to comment in depth.

Panic makes some excellent software. If you need to do a lot of FTPing, their application Transmit is just great. I used to use Interarchy but find Transmit is easier to use and just cool.

Daring Fireball is a neat, well-written Mac site, if occasionally a little fanatical.

Camino is a nice browser, a version of Firefox that integrates better with the Mac OS. I like Safari, but right now Camino is faster. Be aware, though, that the developers don't like plugins., the Apple email client, does not do a great job with spam filtering. But you can use SpamSieve and it does a great job for $25.

Good luck with switching; I have used both Windows and Macs for a very long time and OS X has just been a joy. I've always though Apple had a more sensible approach to the user interface and now Macs are powerful too.
posted by lackutrol at 10:50 AM on June 3, 2006

I've used on Mac OS X. It is slightly more of a pain than MS Office, but it's nice not to have to rely on Microsoft software.

I have installed and worked with both NeoOffice/J and the version that requires you to install X11 from the original install CDs. They both have quirks. NeoOffice/J provides a decent, Office-like environment but occasionally the menus acted up with certain files. The X11 version requires X11 and launches it when you edit with Both are very usable software programs. They also include things like change-tracking, which are essential for some projects.

I usually go with the X11 version of, because NeoOffice/J took too long to open files. But you should be okay with either.

And, if you're buying a new Mac, it will most likely be an Intel Mac, and you can use the new version, which I believe does not use X11, but I haven't looked into this at all yet.

I'm no expert -- just a relatively uninformed casual user -- but feel free to email if you like.
posted by theredpen at 10:51 AM on June 3, 2006

2) Any experience with Open Office for Mac OS? Is it a good replacement for MS Office?

OpenOffice is not the most elegant solution at this point. It doesn't have that "Mac" feel to it. I've heard rumors that they are working to change that. In the meantime, there are excellent Office alternatives in NeoOfficeJ and AbiWord. You may also try Pages, as mentioned previously.

4) Mac websites/blogs that will help me get used to the new world

* Apple's support forums
* If you have a .Mac account, it includes access to their free training video library. It covers everything from simple click-drag training to using iMovie and iDVD.

5) How on Earth am I supposed to import all my old e-mail and stuff?

Detto Technologies Move2Mac software is spectacular. It includes a special USB cable that links the PC to the Mac and then transfers and sets up just about everything. It will even replace the desktop photo on your mac with the one you were using with your PC.
posted by fatbobsmith at 10:55 AM on June 3, 2006 [1 favorite]

Acquisition (file sharing)
Cyberduck (FTP)

The Unofficial Apple Weblog, as mentioned earlier
Mac Rumors, which gets carried away with excitement at times but also has a lot of useful information

And here's a minor but cool tip to start you off with photos: Select multiple photos, drag them down to the Dock to the Preview icon (assuming you have a Preview icon in your Dock ...) -- it opens them all up quickly and lets you page through easily. I hate not having this when I use my Windows machine.
posted by theredpen at 11:00 AM on June 3, 2006

While it is true that binary viruses could exist (and may already, if that link is accurate - I could not tell) on the Mac platform, the actual risk of malicious viruses infecting your new Mac is statistically equivalent to zero.
posted by mzurer at 11:07 AM on June 3, 2006

2) Any experience with Open Office for Mac OS? Is it a good replacement for MS Office?
Is there a reason you don't want to use MS Office for Mac? It also comes with an email client named Entourage, which would probably solve your email import issue from Win Office (I assume you mean Outlook).
posted by Thorzdad at 11:18 AM on June 3, 2006

1) I like iTunes; it is significantly different than on Windows. Not to say that your dislike is invalid, but i have no advice here.

2) It's a memory hog, relying as it does on X. Works better (IMO) than NeoOffice/J, though. There are also a few non-MS word processors for ~$60 - Mellel for example - though I haven't used those. Generally, I use OO for Word documents, and LaTeX when I'm creating it.

3) Adium. SubEthaEdit if you do any coding. VLC if you watch video.

4) Tao of Mac is a good place.

6) Are there any Spyware programs I should get?
posted by spaceman_spiff at 11:28 AM on June 3, 2006

Out of curiosity, what is it that's drawing you to the mac?
posted by shanevsevil at 11:41 AM on June 3, 2006

DevonThink is my most indespensible app.

Saft for Safari is good and worth paying for. VLC is great for video. Onyx is good for maintenance. is a good site for switchers.
posted by dobbs at 12:19 PM on June 3, 2006

ruwan, welcome to the world of Macs. Enjoy your stay - in fact, you'll find out you may never want to leave ;)

Here's a basic list of fav Mac software - I second the previous posters recommendations of Adium and OmniGraffle; the only software I missed on Windoze was Trillian and Visio, and thankfully I've found other substitutes ;)

Adium: Multi-platform Instant Messenging Application
Colloquy: simple IRC client
DENIM: simple quickie web design app
Firefox: don't let the Safari obsessives get to you. Nothing beats the Fox :)
Growl or iAlert (for notifications) ; QuickSilver as well for tweaking your applications (although don't feel you have to start tweaking right away).
Iconographer (icon creator)
iStumbler (wifi locator) - very useful
JiWire Hotspot Locator - very useful as well; not specifically Mac, but there is a Mac version, and you can use it to find wifi offline
Fetch and Transit (FTP programs)
Wallet - online password app
Xjournal: A LiveJournal client for Mac.

Websites: all the usual suspects can be found at - the ones bookmarked by thousands are good.

OpenOffice is...survivable. I ended up getting Office through work, but you can do anything you need via OpenOffice. This is one suite that will improve eventually. You'll find that there is a pile of excellent Open Source apps for Mac that are optimized for Mac - look for the Cocoa reference. The Mac developers out there are creating some beautiful stuff - and OpenOffice will get there eventually.

Spyware: although technically possible, they're not a real concern at this point. Know what's going on your machine (i.e. read up about which applications you're installing), backup often, run utilities-like applications, the usual basic 'take good care of your possession' 101.

Switching - there are sites devoted to making the switch easier (Google 'switching to Mac' for starters). If you have questions, there are piles of great Mac forums out there, and Mefi is great, and feel free to contact me if any questions (I love supporting Apple products).

Like I said, welcome to the world of Apple. You'll love it here :)
posted by rmm at 12:27 PM on June 3, 2006

I don't want to start the virus thing again, but this:

Just use your firewall (comes with the OS) and be sensible.

is all the advice you need, notwithstanding that "be sensible" means install all the security updates from Apple when they come out.

This is done via the Software Update control panel, which I think should be set to automatically notify you of new software by default? Mine certainly is.

When it tells you you need a new version of QuickTime or iTunes, or the driver for the Motorola iPodPhone or whatever it was called, you can ignore it.

But when it says the operating system needs a Security Update, install it A.S.A.P.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 12:36 PM on June 3, 2006

I meant to say "be sensible" includes installing the updates.

Obviously it also includes stuff like not double-clicking on random files sent to you in suspicious emails.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 12:38 PM on June 3, 2006

If you are a student, or a teacher, or the parent of a student (or a teacher?) you can get the 'Student & Teacher' version of Microsoft Office. It's really cheap (as Office goes) .... ~$150 IIRC, and you can legally install it to more than one machine. (I don't recall what the limit is, but 3 comes to mind.)

Office is valuable to have, and the S&T edition is cheap enough to be reasonable.
posted by Wild_Eep at 12:42 PM on June 3, 2006

3) Any indespensible Mac OS software (like the Mac version of Powertools?)

If you write code at all, TextMate is the best €39 you'll ever spend.
posted by evariste at 12:49 PM on June 3, 2006

I can verify, having picked up a MacBook and the S&T version of Office this past weekend, that the number of licenses you get for it is indeed 3. Pretty nice deal, all in all.
posted by Kosh at 1:07 PM on June 3, 2006

As a matter of fact, since British people are apparently so honest that they weren't glibly buying Student & Teacher edition in as large of numbers as Microsoft would have liked and was accustomed to in other markets, it's being renamed Home & Student Edition to encourage people to buy it.
posted by evariste at 1:53 PM on June 3, 2006

Oh, one thing I neglected to mention in my earlier answer: the one part of Office that really doesn't work well in my experience is Entourage, the Mac version of Outlook. This is not a problem for me, since I don't like Outlook anyway, but at my last full-time job I kept a Windows machine on my desk just so I could have a functioning email client.
posted by lackutrol at 2:44 PM on June 3, 2006

Firefox: don't let the Safari obsessives get to you. Nothing beats the Fox :)

Except Opera v9.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:52 PM on June 3, 2006

I'll second TextMate. I spend most of my day in it these days and I'm really happy with it. It looks really sparse when you first start using it, but it's got a lot of power underneath. Money will spent.

Firefox on the Mac is awful; if you want its rendering engine, gotta go with Camino. It's not that the Camino dev's don't like plugins, it's that plugins depend on XUL which is what makes Firefox on the Mac so unwieldy and un-mac-like. I have both installed, and do all my browsing in Camino and all my web app work in Firefox because of its excellent developer tools plugins.
posted by heresiarch at 4:29 PM on June 3, 2006

I couldn't disagree more about Firefox on Mac, and here are some benchmarks that prove it. I use Opera 9 mainly (like five fresh fish), and Safari as a secondary browser.
posted by evariste at 5:13 PM on June 3, 2006

I'll second Quicksilver. It will change the way you use your computer forever.

Other things I use and like on my MacBook Pro (I'm a recent switcher, like you):

Apple's Mail
SvnX (but I might switch to ZigVersion when it comes out of beta; I'm waiting for the ability to check out the root level of a repository)
AlmostVPN (actually, I don't use its VPNish functionality, I just use it for my SSH tunneling)
AdiumX (a better IM client than iChat AV, because it talks to everything-Jabber, MSN, AIM, Yahoo, yada yada).
ArtRage (draw with your wacom tablet)
Audacity (record audio from your built-in mic)
Budget (envelope-based budgeting, it's really neat)
Chmox (reads those .chm ebooks)
Colloquy (IRC)
GarageSale (selling stuff on eBay, tracking your auctions)
Mouseposé (look it up, it's super neat)
TextWrangler (for when I still needed a programmer's text editor, but didn't yet have the €39 to upgrade my expired TextMate 30-day trial to a full version.)
Unison (Usenet reader)
Transmission (bittorrent)
posted by evariste at 5:22 PM on June 3, 2006

* Flip4Mac - Lets you watch WMV files in Safari or Firefox
posted by SpecialK at 10:31 AM PST on June 3 [+fave] [!]

Not yet available for Intel Macs, but they're working on it.
posted by evariste at 5:26 PM on June 3, 2006

I vote for "anything by" - Unison for Usenet, and Transmit for SFTP/FTP. Great apps. Even Desktastic is entertaining. ;-) = great for Mac news & stuff.

I have seen a few people at work (I work in a VERY big Mac shop) try to use openoffice and it sucked. Microsoft Office for the Mac is cheap and works well.

And the virus thing? The doom & gloom sayers have been touting the "It's because there aren't as many Macs" line for years. One would expect that Mac OS X would be a HUGE trophy score and virus authors would be falling all over themselves trying to be the first to have that 0-day OS X virus. To date, it just hasn't happened, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the Mac marketshare. Nothing to do with it AT ALL.
There are no Mac worms/viruses that actually do anything. We've seen a few 'proof of concept' attempts, but nothing that has managed to do anything at all.
In all of my years working with the Mac (in very large Mac shops) I have never ever ever ever ever seen anyone with anything even close to a virus. This includes the stupid users that would double click on a land mine just to see what happened.
So, don't worry about it too much.

Oh, and if you don't like Safari, grab Firefox. Some people think Firefox on the Mac sucks (I agree) - so feel free to grab Camino, OmniWeb, iCab, or Opera. There's a pretty good list of web browsers for the Mac these days. Same with email clients. And IRC clients. <--- more Mac software than you can shake a stick at.
posted by drstein at 8:06 PM on June 3, 2006

There's so much good software out for the mac, you're in luck. But once you have this giant list it really comes down to personal opinion. So I'd really suggest first, get use to the programs that come on your mac. There's a lot of good stuff, and it works very well with other mac programs.

For instance:

AdiumX (a better IM client than iChat AV, because it talks to everything-Jabber, MSN, AIM, Yahoo, yada yada).

Isn't true at all, unless you need to talk to 5 different clients. AdiumX also has trouble with iSight, so in that way, iChat is better. iChat is simple, and works great. I love it.

My point is that I've used a ton of mac programs, many in this thread, and most are great. But you using them will be the only way to figure out the ones that are best suited for the way you work.

That said, I love transmit, quicksilver, notational velocity, netnewswire, omnioutliner, textmate and WebNoteHappy.

I've also been impressed with yojimbo, devonthink, hogsbay notebook, and voodoo pad, but either they're way more than I need (devonthink) or simply don't work the way I think.

Good luck.

ps. I love safari, firefox no, opera, even more no. Try them all.
posted by justgary at 10:35 PM on June 3, 2006

justgary has a great point. You have to try things out for yourself and see what fits your way of working the best.

For instance, I was recommended to try iTerm for a terminal because it has tabs, unlike Apple's Terminal. Well, it's nice, but really, I'll stick with Terminal + GNU Screen, which works a lot better for me.

For another example, I'm totally dissatisfied with the state of the art in Mac screencasting, Mac graphical svn clients, and Mac SSH tunneling programs. On Windows, I used Camtasia, TortoiseSVN, and Bitvise Tunnelier, respectively. I have yet to find programs that I consider equivalent or better on the Mac.
posted by evariste at 10:57 PM on June 3, 2006

3. A lot of text editor and word processor fanatics have snapped at me for this, but I love Tex-Edit Plus. I constantly use this program for writing, cleaning up uglies in Word docs sent to me, and light web coding. It's a personable and simple program, and the developer has been incredibly responsive to feedback. Mac OS X can burn data discs, but I prefer Roxio Toast for its features. The latest does spanning and can compress dual-layer DVDs to single layer ones.

4. is a free tech support community that's impressed me recently. It's fun to drool at all the stuff listed daily at Deal Mac.

6. Mac users really have no concept of spyware. The only threat that I've ever addressed was news of a trojan disguised as a JPEG file that exploited a vulnerability in Safari. The answer was to turn off "Open safe files after downloading" in the preferences. I expect the Mac may face a formidable malware threat eventually, but none have been presented thus far.
posted by evil holiday magic at 3:45 AM on June 4, 2006

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