Windows clueless: Your PC tips and tricks please!?
June 5, 2007 9:29 AM   Subscribe

Easy question: I've been forced to move to a PC with Windows XP from a Mac. Your PC tips and tricks please!?

Currently my office has me on an intel iMac, but Parallels or Bootcamp don't play nicely with the PC only media buying software I use all day. The software's tech support won't help either, so I've finally been forced to switch to a PC full time.

I am a long time Mac user (since I was 10) and I'm Windows clueless.

Does this mean I can't plug in my Mac formatted iPod and jam during my day? What are good iChat alternatives? I hate AIM's interface. What about a good email client? I hate Outlook. What are some great apps for a PC?

I'm trying to be optimistic here folks, help me out!
posted by dearest to Computers & Internet (33 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Using a Mac formatted iPod with Windows. Easier to reformat in the long run, here are some short term solutions. (Macdrive is actually very usable generally though!)

Email client alternatives to Outlook. Well, Outlook Express is probably a bit closer to Mail in terms of the GUI, but is more powerful. I hated email on Windows but use Outlook 2007 when I have to. I've not been that impressed with Thunderbird despite loving FireFox, but you may feel differently.

Alternatives to iChat/Adium - Pidgin?

Just out of interest, what was it about the software that wasn't compatible with Bootcamp?
posted by dance at 9:43 AM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

For every program you use, no matter how little, learn all of the shortcut keys. Ctrl+Space selects a column in Excel, F5 reloads/refreshes screens in most web browsing and file navigation programs/windows etc. With shortcut keys and tabbing between fields I really don't touch my mouse that much.

Alt-Tab for life.

(One to avoid, at least at first, is Shift+Del. This deletes a file, skipping the recycle bin. I've gotten a little ahead of myself a few times clearing out old music etc. and wished I had the patience to use that extra step).

Also, there are a lot of tweaking programs out there that replace/enhance various windows features. Whatever you do, try to limit the number of start-up/system bar programs. Most are unnecessary.

Back up a lot while you get acquainted with it and don't be afraid to fiddle around and screw up.

Get Firefox. I don't hate IE (save for it's wonky CSS and div tag handling from a novice web developing standpoint), but Firefox is extensible. I'm sure there are plenty of AskMe's and Lifehacker lists regarding extensions, but you can't go wrong with AdBlock plus, greasemonkey and DownloadthemAll.

Defrag once a week. Get a good antivirus program (Avast, and AdAware for Spyware).

Help files are your friends.

If all else fails search online. Chances are 1 million others have come across the same problem/bug and have found a fix.

I use Gmail without any client, but I've also heard good things about Thunderbird.

As for chat, I'm having good success with Meebo. It's a web based front end for all the major chat clients.
posted by JeremiahBritt at 9:50 AM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

for chat, I pretty much stick with . Got all the clients you'll need, and nothing to install.

No real reason to defrag once a week, unless you are constantly adding and moving files.

Get AVG anti-virus free, windows defender, and no real worries after that, especially if you are using Firefox.

Everything should work fine after that, unless your kids start installing crap downloaded from the net.

Right mouse button is your friend.
Windows key+D minimizes everything and shows your desktop.
posted by Espoo2 at 10:01 AM on June 5, 2007

I am a happy Windows user, XP & Vista.

Here are good apps I use:

Firefox - browsing
Fox-it Reader - PDF reader (better than Adobe)
Thunderbird - email
Miranda - instant messaging, minimal and non-intrusive
MIRC - IRC client
SmartFTP - FTP client
Adobe Photoshop Elements - Photoshop for the common person at a reasonable price
Adobe Premiere Elements - video editing for the common person at a reasonable price
My Life Organized - GTD software
Wordpad - simple text editing with Word compatibility
X-Fire - IM for gamers
BitComet - bittorrent software

Media players - you will likely need several
Windows Media Player - good default player for most things
iTunes - good for iPod lovers, but bloated & slow in Windows
VLC - for DVD playback and non-standard video, but not great design

Also take a look at Powertoys for Windows, good stuff there...

Overall, use Windows the way they recommend with My Documents, My Network Places, etc. Contrary to popular belief, Microsoft spent a bunch of time thinking about how to organize data on the computer. Like a Mac, if used as intended, things works well. Don't follow their recommendations, you are on your own.
posted by Argyle at 10:04 AM on June 5, 2007 [2 favorites]

The defrag thing isn't necessary to run weekly. If you analyze your drive, it will tell you if your drive needs defragging. I just envisioned an initial period of trying lots of software, installing and uninstalling it until you found what you liked.
posted by JeremiahBritt at 10:05 AM on June 5, 2007

I forgot security. Likely your work has this covered, but...

AVG - good, free anti-virus
Webroot Spysweeper - best anti-spyware on the market, well worth the price
CCleaner - utility cleaner of files/cookies/leftovers/cruft
posted by Argyle at 10:08 AM on June 5, 2007

I second Pidgin for IM, Firefox for browsing, Thunderbird for email, mIRC and SmartFTP (SmartFTP is great). Additionally, I use uTorrent for torrents.

Do have spyware protection. Ad-Aware and Windows Defender.
posted by chlorus at 10:14 AM on June 5, 2007

I also have been a lifelong Mac user and was briefly shellshocked when forced to use a PC at work.

I still like Macs, but the PC has one absolutely amazing feature that I adore: the RIGHT-CLICK. You can do so many shortcuts with this. Just start right-clicking stuff; it's fun. A new surprise every day. The operations that used to require delicate, precise motor control on the Mac (ie, merging cells, shading, making new backgrounds) can basically be done with your eyes closed. It's great and now my hands hurt when I try to use a Mac.
posted by bluenausea at 10:27 AM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


Control clicking (hodn down Control key, click mouse button) is the Mac equivalent of Windows Right-Clickee magic. Contextual menus wherever they make sense. You're welcome!
posted by dbiedny at 10:31 AM on June 5, 2007

posted by dbiedny at 10:32 AM on June 5, 2007

Um, You can right click with a Mac too. You need a multi button mouse...

I am surprised that you couldn't get your PC specific app to run in parallels. It is 99 and 9/10ths a PC. I have had no far. As far as a PC for a Mac user. Get used to doing things the hard way. Window management still baffles me. It seems that every program wants the whole screen, and 'closing' a window sometimes closes the app. Also be prepared for multiple open instances of the same app. Strange that after all these years Windows doesn't even know when an app is open.
posted by Gungho at 10:34 AM on June 5, 2007

Alt+Tab switches windows
Ctrl+Tab generally switches between documents or tabs opened in a window.
WinKey+D minimizes all windows to the desktop
WinKey+E opens a new windows explorer window
Alt+F4 is great for closing windows.
For the truly lazy, there is even a keyboard "Context" key that performs a right click on whatever you are currently focused on.

Firefox is definitely the browser of choice for XP. With Firefox, you should get the AdBlock Plus and Filterset G updater extensions. If you do any web development get FireBug and the WebDeveloper Toolbar extensions.

Of these productivity enhancements, my favorites are Alt+Tab replacement (gives you a thumbnail of each window on Alt+Tab) and Command Prompt Here

If you are using a laptop or LCD monitor, you really need to turn on ClearType and configure it. It takes seconds, but will make reading on-screen so much more enjoyable.

I like as an IM client.

To quickly get to your display settings, right click on any empty area of the desktop and go to properties.

I use as a mediocre, but good looking and stable Quicksilver replacement.
posted by zackola at 10:40 AM on June 5, 2007

Seeing as how most here seem to be recommending Thunderbird, perhaps the issue which drove me away from it has been fixed? (The ability to interpret MS winmail.dat)

uTorrent is THE torrent app for Windows. Wish there was an equivalent for OS X. Azureus is slow and bloated but powerful and Transmission is immature etc.

Install the hosts file from MVPS t block ads. You won't regret it. You don't need the .NET apps - just download the text file and install it yourself or use the batch file to do it automatically.

Here's a good tip - the Windows file and printer sharing wizard DOES work and is a good way to iron out problems with networking.
posted by dance at 10:45 AM on June 5, 2007

Also, hate to contradict zackola, but don't use Filterset G but DO use Adblock Plus with FireFox.
posted by dance at 10:47 AM on June 5, 2007

my god, zackola, i've never heard of ClearType, and it makes the screen fonts SO MUCH CLEARER! Thanks a bunch for the tip!
posted by i less than three nsima at 10:50 AM on June 5, 2007

I don't have a multi-click mouse bottom, guys. I'm finger-paddling on a laptop. But I'll give the control-click thing an option (still sounds like it requires coordination..)
posted by bluenausea at 10:56 AM on June 5, 2007

It's an (almost) perfect clone of the OSX dock. Drag your apps over to create launchers. When you minimize your app, it minimizes to the dock. If you hid your Windows task bar, you can almost forget your running Windows.
posted by Eddie Mars at 11:20 AM on June 5, 2007

A tool I can't live without on Macs or Windows is some sort of clipboard manager. The one I use for Windows is called Ditto.
The application keeps a list of everything you've copied to your clipboard, so you can re-paste it going forward. It makes filling out forms or re-arranging code much easier.
posted by Eddie Mars at 11:37 AM on June 5, 2007

Learn how to navigate menus with the keyboard: press Alt to switch focus to the menu bar, then use the keyboard to move around by typing the underlined letters.

Keep your start menu organized in a sensible hierarchy. Put things you use a lot on the first level, etc. Then you can use the keyboard to start programs quickly. For example, I type Windows, P, E to start Eudora: Windows key brings up the menu, P for programs, E to choose Eudora (because it's the only thing at that level that starts with E; if there were others, I'd hit E until Eudora was selected, then Enter).
posted by equalpants at 11:43 AM on June 5, 2007

Dave's Quick Search Deskbar (the only internet search accessory you need)
Ditto (fantastic clipboard extension)
HoeKey (for keyboard shortcuts, a bit technical, but awesome)
AutoIt (for macros/scripting)
posted by Chuckles at 12:37 PM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

I just switched from a PC to a Mac, and there were a lot of programs that I loved on my PC (many of which I'm seconding from others above...):

Firefox for web browsing, with extensions DownThemAll,

Greasemonkey (scripts are great!), Tabbrowser Preferences, IE View (lets you view a website that requires IE in a Firefox tab--means you never have to launch IE for those wonky websites), and FoxyTunes (lets you control iTunes from Firefox)

VLC: It will play almost anything you throw at it, be it audio or video.

Thunderbird: Mozilla's mail client, can also get extensions like Firefox

Pidgin: Gaim's new name, will handle a multitude of IM clients

AdAware is a must for anti-spyware stuff

uTorrent: Nice interface and easy to use BitTorrent client

7-zip: Makes zip files and archives

TortoiseSVN for SVN, if you're into that kind of thing

That's all I have for now...
posted by TheFuse at 2:08 PM on June 5, 2007

I just switched from a PC to a Mac, and there were a lot of programs that I loved on my PC (many of which I'm seconding from others above...):

Firefox for web browsing, with extensions DownThemAll, Greasemonkey (scripts are great!), Tabbrowser Preferences, IE View (lets you view a website that requires IE in a Firefox tab--means you never have to launch IE for those wonky websites), and FoxyTunes (lets you control iTunes from Firefox)

VLC: It will play almost anything you throw at it, be it audio or video.

Thunderbird: Mozilla's mail client, can also get extensions like Firefox

Pidgin: Gaim's new name, will handle a multitude of IM clients

AdAware is a must for anti-spyware stuff

uTorrent: Nice interface and easy to use BitTorrent client

7-zip: Makes zip files and archives

TortoiseSVN for SVN, if you're into that kind of thing

That's all I have for now...
posted by TheFuse at 2:09 PM on June 5, 2007

Opera for web browsing. It's like Firefox, only you don't need to install any plug-ins, doesn't leak memory and it's highly customizable.

For video playback I would recommend the K-Lite Mega Codec pack. It's not perfect (a little complicated, sometimes redundant), but it will play anything.

Your PC will require a little more TLC than your Mac, in the form of occasional disk clean-ups and defrags, as well as regular malware scans (I recommend Ad-Aware or Spybot S&D) and you must make sure to keep your anti-vir (AVG free is good. Stay the hell away from Norton!) program and Windows updated.

Good luck!
posted by baserunner73 at 3:54 PM on June 5, 2007

Yes, Trillian is a lovely IM program, and free.

And definitely fiddle. Fiddle with Windows's preferences and fiddle with options for individual applications. Look at all the menus. Anything labeled Options, Preferences, Properties, or Settings is worth exploring (Options and Preferences are generally under the Tools menu). Right-click on the taskbar at the bottom to get to its properties (it may be set to auto-hide, which can be annoying if you aren't expecting it, and there's an option to group windows by application which you may want to enable/disable. Also, if it's locked, unlock it and you can drag the whole thing to the top or side of the screen).

I think most of the basic keyboard shortcuts--copy, paste, find--are the same with PCs and Macs, except that PCs use ctrl and Macs use the Apple key. That always trips me up when I have to use a Mac.

You can drag shortcuts to places (launching an application, or a shortcut to a particular folder) to the left side of the taskbar (it probably currently has a Show Desktop icon, an Internet Explorer icon, and something else) and then rearrange them. If you want a lot down there, you can have three directly accessible, and more that are accessible when you click the arrow for it. I find it's a handy place to keep a shorcut to Notepad and some others, so I don't have to 1)minimize everything to get to the desktop or 2)go through the menus. Right-click on any application or folder, and there's an option to create a shorcut for it. (You can drag stuff from the Start menu and its different branches to the desktop or to that spot on the taskbar.)

You can organize your Start menu; delete everything off of it that you don't want (it won't delete the program itself, only the shortcut on the menu. This is safe) and click-and-drag the rest around (within and between the different branches of the Start menu) to arrange it to your liking. If you take a program off the Start menu and you want to find it later, it will probably be under C:/Program Files.

Remember that doubleclicking on the top of a window will maximize/unmaximize it; you don't have to click-drag.

For browsers, I like both Firefox and Opera. Firefox is much more customizable, but Opera has some nice features built in, too. So download both and see which you like better.

VLC is okay. I find that it's lighter than WMP, and I can switch between it and other applications more quickly. It also allows you to have multiple instances open at once (even playing at once). However, its playlist thing really sucks (you can't rearrange a playlist; you have to take things off it and then put them on, individually, in the order you want them) and sometimes when opening a music file it won't start actually playing until it's a few seconds in.

For other applications, check out Lifehacker's Windows section. They've featured lots of cool stuff--there's probably some things that would give Windows a more Mac-like "feel". Figure out what specific things you don't like, and see if there's an application to fix/modify it, if it's not a setting you can change. I liked Taskbar Shuffle (lets you move around the windows on the taskbar) and iColorFolder.
posted by Many bubbles at 7:57 PM on June 5, 2007

Oh, and do look through the Help if you can't find something. It's generally pretty helpful if you're decent at thinking of keywords/search terms.
posted by Many bubbles at 8:01 PM on June 5, 2007

Oh, and just generally--if everything gets slow or frozen or otherwise wonky and nothing seems to fix it, just reboot.

Ctrl+alt+del will bring up Task Manager (or it should) and from there you can see what processes are running and end them (but don't end something if you don't know what it is, obviously. There'll probably be 40-50 background processes; some of them are vital). You can sort them by memory usage (useful if you think a specific application might be making things slow). Use this to end a process that's frozen. It'll give you a fairly dire warning, and ask you if you really want to do it, but pffff. I've never had any problems from doing this when something isn't responding.
posted by Many bubbles at 8:11 PM on June 5, 2007

Like many bubbles said, you need to mess around with it a bit.

Windows was made by people who liked to mess around with things, and most if not all of the development is done by people who like to mess around with things. There's a great deal of third-party software, but you'll most likely have to try a couple different programs to find the one you like.

You're expected to mess around, and in fact, having a "mess around with" mindset is a critical part of learning how to use the OS effectively.

Windows is nearly infinitely malleable, so you can get to a place that suits you perfectly, but you may find that it's not as good out-of-the-box as the mac stuff you're used to. The same goes for most things that have been developed for Windows.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 9:02 AM on June 6, 2007

To make windows like mac you could try flyakite osx

as the user above me said, windows is very maleable.

The bad thing about that is windows by itself, is very unproductive and can be very frustrating at times

good thing is that there are programs that will make it better, and more visually appealing

some good things to try out are windowblinds, visual style simillar to shapeshifter in a mac

Launchy ( simillar to quicksilver, altho quicksilver is much more advanced)
posted by radsqd at 12:32 PM on June 6, 2007

I second the recommendation for launchy: ugly but stable and gets the job done.

Mediamonkey is by far the best music organiser I have found;

Irfanview is a wonderful lightweight and highly capable graphics viewer

Google desktop -- not perhaps as good as spotlight but not bad at all

Second Copy for lightweight flexible backups.

There's nothing that can compare with Textwrangler, which is a shame.
posted by alloneword at 2:08 PM on June 6, 2007

CrimsonEditor is no TextWrangler, but it's free and much better than plugging along in Notepad.

BTW, AVG doesn't make a free AV product anymore. Avast! is the best free AV software I've found (granted, I only looked for 5 minues).
posted by chairface at 4:07 PM on June 6, 2007

You're expected to mess around, and in fact, having a "mess around with" mindset is a critical part of learning how to use the OS effectively.

This is so true. You can't be afraid that if you change a setting, you will Fuck Up Your Computer Permanently (and honestly, I can't think of a single thing that you can get to easily that would do that (well, except installing malware--or deleting things willy-nilly from system folders (which aren't visible until you go into folder options and tell it to show hidden folders--after you do that, they're paler than normal folders))).
posted by Many bubbles at 4:46 PM on June 6, 2007


Re: AVG - um, yes, they do? You weren't fooled by that somewhat sneakily worded update they posted, were you?
posted by dance at 12:10 PM on June 11, 2007

I recommend Notepad2 as a notepad replacement.

Contact me if you need help finding the binary for the optional contextual menu
posted by dance at 12:12 PM on June 11, 2007

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