How to Switch from a Windows PC to a Mac

An iMac with an Apple keyboard and mouse on a wooden desk.Krisda / Shutterstock.com

It’s easy to switch from a Windows PC to a Mac. The platforms are probably not as different as you have heard. Our practical guide will keep you posted in no time!

Choose a Mac

If you haven’t bought your Mac yet (or are still thinking about it), you should try to decide which computer is right for you. Apple’s line is divided into three classes: laptops, consumer personal computers, and powerful high-end giants.

Laptops

For portable use, Apple currently offers two laptops: the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro. The 13 inch Macbook Air (from $ 1,099, to date) is an excellent versatile tool, with a new Retina display (high-DPi), energy-efficient performance and the classic “corner” shape. It’s great for browsing the web, typing essays, watching Netflix, and can even handle a light sub-4K video montage.

13-inch Apple MacBook Air display.Apple

If you need more power on the go, especially in the graphics department, Macbook Pro is the next logical choice. It is a mobile power plant available in 13 and 15 inch models (currently, starting at $ 1,299 and $ 2,399, respectively). It is bigger, heavier and offers much more punch than its light brother. It is also much more expensive. You customize both models at checkout, but get more options if you choose the Pro.

Consumer Personal Computers

For home and office users, the iMac is a great choice. It is available with a built-in 21.5-inch screen up to a 4K or 27-inch 5K screen (currently, starting at $ 1,099 or $ 1,799, respectively). It’s great value for money, even when you compare it to building your own computer. You get a lot more performance for your money if you opt for the larger office type. You also get expansion ports to add more RAM, an appropriate range of rear ports, a decent Apple keyboard and passable mouse.

A 21-inch Apple iMac sitting next to a 27-inch Apple iMac.Apple

If you already have a monitor and peripherals, you might be interested in the Mac mini (from $ 799 to date). It’s the most affordable computer Apple makes, partly because of the somewhat limited hardware. You won’t get iMac-like performance, and these machines aren’t armed with powerful GPUs, but you can increase RAM and processor selection at checkout if you wish.

High-end professional systems

Professional users end up with the iMac Pro and the Mac Pro. Generally speaking, if you have to ask, you don’t really need these machines. They’re packed with high-end components like Intel Xeon server processors, Radeon Pro Vega GPUs and more RAM than you know what to do with them. As of this writing, the iMac Pro starts at $ 4,999, and the Mac Pro will not be shipped until the end of 2019 (pricing to be announced).

Mac Pro hardware.Apple

For most people, an iMac or MacBook Air is the obvious choice. If you’re happy to trade performance for portability, the MacBook Pro should be on your radar. If you buy your main computer and opt for a laptop, avoid the smaller SSD.

As of this writing, you can upgrade MacBook Air’s tiny 128 GB SSD to 256 GB for $ 200, or 512 GB for $ 400. If you want to store your main photo library on the machine, as well as software like Office or Photoshop, you will need this extra space a few years later. Although it is sometimes possible to increase the storage of your MacBook later, solutions can be expensive and impractical.

The basics

When you start your new Mac for the first time, you set up your account username and set up (or sign in with) an Apple ID. With that aside, you have before you an office that looks both familiar and slightly foreign.

How to use the trackpad or mouse

Before you get started, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with some common actions that you will use as you work your way through macOS:

scroll: On a trackpad, you scroll with two fingers, just like you would on a mobile device.
By clicking: The trackpad is a big button, so you can click anywhere.
Right or two-finger click: To open the context menu “right click”, place two fingers on the trackpad and “click” with one. You can also right-click with a standard mouse or hold down the Ctrl key and click.

The dock

At the bottom of the screen, you find the macOS Dock. It is the Mac equivalent of the Windows taskbar. It’s one of the easiest ways to launch and access your applications. There are two areas on the Dock separated by a partition. On the left, you find your applications and on the right, the folders, the recycle bin and all the minimized windows that you have opened.

The macOS Dock.

To pin an item to the Dock, you right-click it (or click with two fingers on a trackpad), then choose Options> Keep in Dock. To get rid of something, click and drag it until “Delete” appears, then release. You can configure the Dock to appear at the bottom or on the left or right edge of the screen. You can also configure it to hide automatically. Launch System Preferences> Dock to configure it as desired.

The menu bar

At the top of the screen, you see the Mac menu bar (shown below). Unlike Windows, where drop-down menus like File and Edit appear docked to the window you’re using, macOS places them at the top of the screen at all times. You can find out which application is in use, as its name will appear in the upper left corner next to the Apple logo.

To the right of the menu bar is the Apple equivalent of the Windows system tray (shown below). This is where you do things like connect to Wi-Fi networks or check your battery percentage. Many apps, like Evernote and Google Drive, place icons here for easy access. macOS also has lots of apps that live in the menu bar.

The macOS menu bar.

Over time, the menu bar can become crowded and cumbersome, as shown above. If you find that to be the case, you can put away the bartender.

Projector

While the Dock is one of the easiest ways to access applications, it’s not the most efficient. If you press Command + spacebar, you start Spotlight search. It’s the full-featured Mac search engine, and it’s the perfect way to launch apps: just type the name of the app, then hit Enter.

A macOS Spotlight search for currency conversion.

You can do a lot with Spotlight. You can access the option panels under System Preferences, search for files and even make simple sums or convert currencies. You can also use natural language in your search, such as “PDF files I opened last week”, to further refine your results. It’s a good idea to get into the habit of using Spotlight, especially to launch applications.

System Preferences

The Mac equivalent to Control Panel in Windows is System Preferences. This is where you will add new users to your machine, change security settings, or customize your desktop (just to name a few of its useful functions). Third-party applications can also install their own option panels here. It is worth digging into System Preferences, so that you can familiarize yourself with its different options.

The macOS System Preferences menu.

The notification center and today

In the upper right corner of the menu bar is an icon that you can click to open the Notification Center or the Today screen. You can also slide your finger inward from the right-most edge of the trackpad. macOS has a robust notification system, and that’s where they all appear. Scroll up on this screen to activate Do Not Disturb or Night Shift mode.

The macOS Today menu.

The Today screen (shown above) also lives here. It works just like the Today screen on iPhone and iPad. It is entirely composed of widgets. Scroll to the bottom of the Today screen and click “Edit” to rearrange and enable or disable the widgets. Many third-party applications also install widgets that you can access in this panel. You can add weather forecasts, a Reminders widget or even a calculator.

Siri

Siri is a personal assistant that helps you find files or information on the Internet. To access Siri, hold down the Command key + space bar or click on the Siri icon in the menu bar. You can change this setting (and others, such as Siri’s voice or language) under System Preferences> Siri.

A Pinnable Siri request in macOS.

You can also pin some of Siri’s responses to your Today screen. For example, if you ask Siri to show you the table of prime ministers, you can click the little plus sign (+) to pin this request (see above). It will be updated automatically when new information becomes available. Siri can do all kinds of things on a Mac, including writing tweets or emails and, of course, researching the Internet.

How to install and remove software

The process for install software on a Mac is slightly different from that of a Windows machine, but it’s still simple. There are three main methods for installing software on a Mac:

Manual installation: After downloading a disk image file with the DMG extension, double-click it to mount it. A window appears with an application icon (and perhaps a README file). Click and drag the application icon to your “Applications” folder in the Finder. Many DMG installers provide you with a shortcut to the Applications folder and instructions.
Package installer: These work exactly like the installation wizards in Windows. Double-click the PKG file to run it. Follow the on-screen instructions (usually, you simply click “Next” several times) until your software is installed.
Mac App Store installs: Launch the Mac App Store and find the app you want to download. Click on “Get” (or “Buy” if it is a paid application) and enter your Apple ID password. Your application installs automatically in the Applications folder.

The Mac App Store showing the OmniPlan 3 app.

There is another method that you can use which involves the free app homebrew. It is a package manager that works via the command line, like many Linux distributions. You can read more about finding and installing software via Homebrew here.

The two main methods for removing software are:

Manual deletion: Find the application in the Applications folder, then click and drag it to the Trash. You may need to provide your administrator password to completely uninstall an application. Empty the recycle bin to recover the free space.
Automatic uninstallers: Some applications include uninstallers that work just like Windows, so check the Applications folder first. If you find an uninstaller for an application, double-click it and follow the on-screen instructions.

If you’re having trouble removing an app, a free app called AppCleaner who can help you. AppCleaner removes any signs of an application from your system, and it may sometimes be necessary to remove a stubborn software package.

You can read more about uninstalling software from a Mac here.

How to manage macOS

In general, daily maintenance is easier on Mac than on Windows. You don’t need to update the drivers manually: Apple provides all of the driver and firmware updates for you. There is also no registry on a Mac, and most of the household chores of the operating system are taken care of for you in the background.

Activity Monitor

You can launch Activity Monitor (do a Spotlight search or pin it to the Dock for easy access) to see exactly what’s going on on your Mac. It is the macOS equivalent of Windows Task Manager. There are tabs to monitor processor, memory, power, disk, and network usage. To kill the processes, highlight them, then click the “X” in the upper left corner.

MacOS activity monitor.

Applications that are no longer responding (that is, they have crashed) are highlighted in red. You can use the box in the upper right corner to search for individual processes. If you are experiencing performance issues, you can start Activity Monitor first to diagnose the issue.

Click here to learn how to use the activity monitor like a pro.

How to update software and macOS

You can update any software you install from the Mac App Store with a single click on the “Updates” tab in the Mac App Store. To automate this process, go to System Preferences> Software Update, then turn on automatic updates. Applications that you install manually must perform their own checks, notify you when new versions are ready, and then prompt you to install the update and restart the application.

Sometimes you need to download the new version of an app directly from the developer’s website to update it. This is generally the case for older applications and small free tools that do not have the infrastructure for automatic updates.

The macOS Software Updates panel.

You can also update macOS manually via the software update settings panel (shown above). You can also choose to enable automatic downloads or automate the update process. New major versions of macOS are released every year, usually in October. You will be asked to update your Mac if it is compatible with the new update. This process is supported through the Mac App Store.

If you are using software that is not compatible with a new major version of macOS, you may want to wait before updating your system.

You can read more about keeping your Mac and its software up to date here.

How to back up with Time Machine

macOS has an integrated backup system called Time Machine. The easiest way to use Time Machine is to buy an external hard drive that is at least the size of your Mac’s internal storage. Insert the reader, then launch Time Machine (search for Spotlight or click on the Time Machine icon in the menu bar).

From there, you designate the volume as the backup disk. Each time you connect this drive in the future, macOS automatically backs up your system. In the event of a problem, you can easily restore your system from Time Machine. If you lose files that you backed up with Time Machine, just connect the drive and select individual files or folders.

You can also restore your entire Mac from a Time Machine backup. This is ideal when moving from one Mac to another or in the event of a catastrophic hardware failure.

You can go here to find out what else you can do with Time Machine.

File management in macOS

Finder is the macOS equivalent of Windows Explorer. This is how you become familiar with the operating system and its basic functions should be familiar to everyone who uses Windows. You can click and drag to highlight files and right-click (or click with two fingers) to access context menus and create folders.

Finder on macOS.

Copy and paste works the same way as under Windows, although you use Command + C (copy) and Command + V (paste) as opposed to Ctrl under Windows. Cutting is called “Move” on a Mac and it works a little differently. To “cut” a file, you copy it first, then use Command + Option + V to move it. If you right-click and press the Option key, “Paste” becomes “Cut” in the menu.

macOS uses a HFS + or APFS file system of the UNIX type. The root folder of your macOS “Macintosh HD” installation drive contains the following important folders:

/ Applications: This is where your applications live.
/System: Files related to normal macOS operation.
/ Libraries: Shared libraries used by the software and the main operating system.
/ Users: Where user files and folders are stored.
/ Volumes: Where all mountable volumes (such as .DMG files) and external disks are mounted.
/Network: Where network volumes are mounted.

Due to the structure of UNIX file systems, there are no separately mounted C: drives. This can be confusing for beginners on the Mac. Remember that if you’re looking for a file or folder, you can search for it with Spotlight to find it quickly. If you know the specific folder you want, launch Finder, choose Go> Go to Folder, then type the location. For example, to access your Documents folder, you should type: / Users / username / Documents.

One problem you might encounter while transferring from Windows is compatibility with its NTFS format volumes, such as external drives and USB devices. This is Microsoft’s format, and you will probably use it on your old Windows PC or on external storage. macOS can read from NTFS volumes, but it cannot write to it natively. However, you can add NTFS writing capacity to your Mac with additional software..

MacOS security

Apple is often accused of going over the line when it comes to protecting Mac users from potential threats. In reality, macOS protections don’t deviate much from what Microsoft added to Windows 10. The main difference on a Mac is that you don’t need a permanently running antivirus.

Porter

GateKeeper has been added to macOS to protect the system from unsigned software. When you launch an app for the first time, GateKeeper displays a warning (shown below) that is no different from the ones you see on Windows 10. If you try to run an app that you haven’t downloaded from the Mac App Store or that the developer did not sign because with Apple, you will not be able to open it. Of course, there is a simple way around it.

A macOS GateKeeper warning pop-up.

After learning that the app will not open, go to System Preferences> Security & Privacy. On the General tab at the bottom of the screen, you see a notice warning you that an application could not be launched. Click “Run anyway” and your application will open (you won’t have to repeat this in the future either).

System integrity protection

In order to protect certain parts of the operating system, Apple introduced system integrity protection (or SIP). SIP performs all of the following functions for macOS:

It protects the files and directories of the main system.
It prevents code that could pose a security threat from being injected into preinstalled applications, such as Finder and Safari.
It stops the installation of unsigned kernel extensions (such as drivers and option panels in System Preferences).

You can disable SIP on your Mac if you want, but you really shouldn’t.

Sandboxing application

Any software you install through the Mac App Store is designed to comply with the Apple application sandboxing guidelines. This greatly limits the damage that a malicious application can cause to your system. Sandboxing only provides the application with the resources it needs to perform its designated function and nothing else.

Not all apps are sandboxed, unlike those you install outside the Mac App Store. You may notice that some developers maintain two versions of their apps: a slightly limited version of the Mac App Store and a fully functional, standalone version.

How to Protect Against Malware

Malware for Mac exists: it is naive to think otherwise. To protect your system from malware, it’s best to avoid unsigned apps, prioritize the Mac App Store, and avoid pirated or pirated software.

You don’t need an antivirus because your Mac already runs a low-level one called XProtect (you can find out more about this. here). However, you may want to scan your Mac periodically with an anti-malware tool, such as Malwarebytesand a persistent installation verifier, like Knock Knock. The best use of antivirus on your Mac is to prevent the spread of infections between your Windows machines.

Keyboard, touchpad and mouse

Most of the differences between Windows and macOS only take a few hours of use in the real world to adapt. One that might take a little longer is the physical difference in keyboard layout, including three keys: Control, Option, and Command (shown below).

The keyboard of the MacBook Air displaying the Control, Option and Command keys.

The Command key is equivalent to the Windows Ctrl key in Mac. You use it for common shortcuts, such as to copy (Command + C), to save your work (Command + S) and to switch between applications (Command + Tab). The main problem with adjusting this key is its physical location, closest to the spacebar. You will get used to it in time.

The Option key is a modifier. It changes what common shortcuts do (like Command + Option + V for Move instead of Paste). It also changes the display of option menus and the type of keys.

Here are some things you can do with the Option key:

Right-click an active application in the Dock, and then press the Option key. “Close” becomes “Force to leave”.
Hold down the Option key while clicking on the Wi-Fi icon in the menu bar to view much more information about your network adapter.
Hold Option while you type to access special characters and accents, like Option + P for π.

The Control key is contextual. It is often used in applications for application-specific shortcuts, such as Ctrl + Tab to switch between tabs in Safari or Chrome. You can also use Control in global macOS shortcuts. For example, you can press Ctrl + arrow keys to switch between desktops.

The other difference that can trigger new arrivals is instead of a backspace key, you see Delete. The Delete key works exactly like Backspace on Windows (you can hold Function + Backspace to replicate its Windows behavior).

Common Windows keyboard shortcuts on a Mac

Many macOS shortcuts are similar to their Windows counterparts. Here’s a cheat sheet to get you started:

Copy: Command + C
Dough: Command + V
Move (cut): Command + Option + V
To cancel: Command + Z
Select all: Command + A
Change application / window: Command + Tab
Minimize the application / window: Command + M
Exit an application: Command + Q
Close window / tab: Command + W
Take a screenshot (full screen): Shift + Command + 3

macOS works best with a trackpad. If you’ve had bad Windows laptops in the past, you might be surprised at how responsive your MacBook’s trackpad is. With the trackpad, you can use gestures that speed up navigation and you can configure all of them according to your preferences. Head to System Preferences> Trackpad to see what gestures are available. You can also watch videos that show you how to use them.

If you don’t have a MacBook, you can buy one Magic Trackpad 2 (shown below) for use with your iMac or other desktop system.

Apple Magic Trackpad 2 in silverApple

Your Mac works with just about any USB mouse or keyboard, even if it’s designed for Windows. However, you may need to install the manufacturer’s software to properly configure the device. You can also link any key (including the Windows key) on a keyboard with a free application called Karabiner-Elements. It’s a great way to get more mileage out of older Windows devices.

It just takes time

With Apple, it’s hard to “break” macOS on your own, so be sure to explore the operating system at your own pace. Many people are drawn to the Apple ecosystem because they want a better user experience. The fact that Apple designs hardware and software in tandem gives it a level of control over its machines that Windows OEMs cannot match.

Plus, despite the old myth, a Mac is great for playing games. Once you are aware of the basics, be sure to check how to play games on your Mac.

RELATED: How to play games on a Mac in 2019

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