Switching from Windows to Mac, and from Mac to Windows

Habit often gives way to allegiance, in a way. When you’ve had a friend for long enough, for instance, you learn to appreciate them despite their annoying quirks. They may be late all the time, but then there are all those wonderful qualities you appreciate which motivate you to put up with the stuff you don’t like.

Now, switching between operating systems is nothing like switching friends – because who does that? But the similarity exists in the way we get used to an operating system and eventually end up feeling kind of “loyal” to the brand. Mac users trash talk Windows, and the other way around.

A lot of the time, our aversion to the other operating system stems simply from the fact that its interface and software are quite alien to us. If you’ve been using a Windows PC your whole life, and suddenly need to do something as basic as sending an email from your friend’s MacBook, you find yourself in a world of confusion. How do you switch between tabs? Where the hell is “@”? And what is this Safari nonsense? (Hint: you can still use Google Chrome.)

The truth is, both operating systems have their own merits and their own obnoxious bugs. Yet, each is better suited for certain purposes, which is why you may be thinking of making the switch.

In this article, we’ll offer some advice on switching from Windows to Mac, and switching from Mac to Windows. From different keyboard shortcuts to different jacks and ports: you’ll learn how to prepare for the switch, what to expect, and what each operating system is best suited for. Let’s get started!

Switching from Mac to Windows

First, we’ll talk about switching from Mac to Windows. Even though this OS may be foreign to you, and you kinda think Steve Jobs was a jerk (and you’re right), it has quite a bit going for it as well. The interface is actually quite intuitive, keyboard shortcuts are incredibly useful, and it has a lot of built-in programs and infrastructure which are years from their Windows counterparts.

Let’s dive in.

Advantages of Using a Mac

While developers are divided when it comes to which operating system is best for coding, and in fact many prefer Linux, Mac does have some advantages over the other two. To begin with, as Mac has its own ecosystem for programming stuff compatible with the platform, making apps for iOS and Mac is best done on a Mac computer. Additionally, the hardware and the software of Mac computers are generally of high quality and dependable. 

They also look pretty sleek, don’t they?

Where Macs really shine, though, is with CPU-intensive graphic design and video editing. There’s a plethora of video and image editing programs that either only exist for Mac, or work a lot better on Mac than on Windows. For instance, the Adobe Creative Cloud suit has been found to be much buggier on a brand-new Windows computer than on a Mac.

There are other apps that only exist for Mac and are incredibly useful, like Carbon Copy Cloner – free software for Apple computers that automatically backs up all your data on a bootable volume. So if your computer crashes, you can just boot from your Carbon Copy backup and keep using your Mac, allowing you to replace your failed hard drive at your own convenience.

Things to Remember to Move when Switching from Windows to Mac

The things you’ll want to take with you when moving from Windows to Mac are mainly your personal folders, such as text documents, PDFs, images, videos, MP3s, and so on.

There are three ways you can move all this data from the old Windows to the new Mac: by using Mac’s Migration Assistant, by using cloud storage, or by using an external hard drive.

The Migration Assistant can help you move not only files and compatible apps, but also user accounts from your Windows to your Mac computer. To use the Migration Assistant, install the appropriate version on your old PC, start up your new Mac, set it up, and open the Migration Assistant there as well. The program will connect the two computers and transfer the selected files and data between them.

Your second option is to use cloud storage, like Google Backup and Sync. You can upload all your important folders (your Documents, Pictures, etc.) and then download them on your Mac as a ZIP file.

The third option is using an external hard drive. Depending on how many files you have on your PC, you may need more than one. Simply plug in the hard drive, move all the important stuff, and then move them to your Mac. You may even decide to leave some of the files on the hard drive so they don’t unnecessarily take up disk space. Make sure that the hard drive is formatted so as to work with both Windows and Mac.

What to Expect When Switching from Windows to Mac

There are obviously differences in the interface, but nothing to fret over. The biggest hassle is dealing with all the dongles (adapters) for certain drives. Some Mac models (like the MacBook Pro) only have USB-C ports, which means that you’ll need to use a dongle whenever you want to plug in an HDMI cable or USB-A cord.

Another thing to keep in mind is that between 2015 and 2019, Mac released a bunch of Notebooks that used butterfly keyboards, a problematic new keyboard mechanism that became known for occasionally resulting in keys getting stuck and even completely broken after a short period of use. However, Mac recalled all of its butterfly keyboard Notebooks, and if you happen to have ended up with one of those, you are eligible for Apple’s keyboard repair program.

With all that out of the way, here are some tips on how you can adapt to your new Mac more quickly.

Installing Programs

As you can imagine, there’s a different host of applications offered on Mac. To get started, head over to the Mac App Store (available in the dock – Mac version of the Windows task bar at the bottom of the screen) and select the apps you want to install.

Installing programs is different on Mac and on Windows. While Windows requires that you run an installer in order to install an application, all you need to do from the App Store is click on Get > Install. If the app in question isn’t free, the button will say Price. If you find the price acceptable, click on Buy App.

If you want to download and install an app that’s not in the Mac App Store, you’ll need to download the .dmg file online and then drag it to the Applications folder.

Discovering the New Keyboard

One of the first differences that users notice after switching from Windows to Mac is the difference in the keyboard. Although it all may seem counterintuitive at first, the keyboard shortcuts on Mac laptops are actually very useful – you just need to get used to them.

In fact, the keyboard shortcuts on Macs are similar enough to those for Windows. Most of the time, the confusion arises from the fact that the familiar control (ctrl) key is replaced by the command (cmd) key in Mac keyboards.

For most keyboard shortcuts, you’d need to use the command key (next to the space bar) rather than the control key

For instance, this is how some popular Windows shortcuts look like on Mac:

Ctrl + P = Cmd + P (print)

Ctrl + C = Cmd + C  (copy)

Ctrl + V = Cmd + V (paste)

Ctrl + X = Cmd + X (cut)

Ctrl + S = Cmd + S (save)

Ctrl + A = Cmd + A (select all)

Ctrl + Z = Cmd + Z (undo last command)

Some other useful Mac shortcuts (most of which are the same as in Windows, except with ctrl) include:

cmd + tab – Moving over to the next app

cmd + ` – Moving over to the next window

ctrl + tab – Moving over to the next tab

cmd + w – Close current tab

cmd + q – Close current application

When you’re ready to discover the other default keyboard shortcuts in Mac, go to System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts.

Discover the New Interface

Right off the bat, you’ve turned on your brand new MacBook, opened a browser, and just as you’re about to close the window, realize that even the close button isn’t where it should be.

That’s just one of the multiple differences in the interface that you’ll get used to soon enough. The buttons for closing, minimizing, and maximizing windows are at the upper left corner of the windows rather than the right.

Another big change that you’ll soon notice is that right click doesn’t work the same on Macs. To “right click” on a Mac, you can:

  1. Tap the trackpad with two fingers simultaneously;
  2. Click the trackpad with your thumb while making contact with two fingers,
  3. Click the trackpad while holding the ctrl key.

Some other notable differences you’ll come across include:

  • Control Panel is called System Preferences
  • Recycle Bin is called Trash, and it’s in the Dock (taskbar)
  • Search Bar is called Spotlight
  • Windows File Explorer is called Finder (and you’ll love it)

Discover the New File Manager

People who’ve switched from Mac to Windows will probably tell you that one of the things they missed the most is Finder, Mac’s version of File Explorer.

Finder is located in the dock. You can use it to search for files, as well as organize files, images, folders, and documents. Note that Finder doesn’t have a cut feature like Windows. Instead, you’ll need to copy the file the regular way (cmd + C), and paste it slightly differently, by clicking cmd + alt + V. 

Another incredibly useful native search app on Mac is Spotlight. Spotlight helps you find files, documents, images, and apps in a simple way. You can search based on the file location, file type, or a part of the file name. Spotlight will give you suggestions as you browse, which is quite useful if you’re having a tough time remembering the exact file name.

You can access Spotlight from your menu bar, by clicking on the magnifying glass icon, or by pressing cmd + space bar. You can also use Spotlight for quick calculations, conversions, and word definitions, or to get news, sports, weather, and movie showtimes updates, as well as recommendations for places near you.

Updating the Software

Unlike Windows computers, where each program requires a separate update, Macs do bulk software updates for all your apps at once. You get a single notification to update, and it takes care of all apps with a single bundle.

Switching from Mac to Windows

Now we go in the reverse direction: switching from Mac to Windows. Windows is the most widely used OS in the world for two reasons: first, it works pretty well, and second, it’s way cheaper than Apple. So maybe your last Mac has run its course, and you’ve just realized that it may not be worth doughing out another $4000 when you can get a great Windows-based laptop for half the price. There are some amazing new HP models, for instance, which come with 4K touchscreens, multiple USB-C ports, USB-A ports, an HDMI port, and an SD card slot – and you can enjoy all that without any dongles.

The latest Windows 10 OS has made great strides in interface and security.

Admittedly, macOS has been the leader in security and design apps. However, Windows has made strides in these two categories as well: security has improved significantly and increasing numbers of developers are making design software that’s also available for Windows. In any case, if you’ve enjoyed using macOS so far, you can adapt your new Windows 10 to work similarly enough.

Basically, Windows isn’t what it was in the ’90s or early 2000s. They’ve improved. They’ve watched Apple, listened to their users, and found a way to make their OS a good deal more user-friendly.

Advantages of Using a Windows

One of the main advantages of using Windows is that it’s quite flexible. If you read the previous section, you may remember that we talked about how Mac does updates in bundles, which is easier to manage, while Windows updates the various elements one by one, as most of them belong to different manufacturers.

However, there’s an upside to the way Windows does things as well: you get updates more frequently. Instead of waiting for enough upgrades to pile up so your computer can be mass-updated, the Windows way will allow you to have each program working at its best as soon as patches and upgrades arrive for it specifically. 

Another thing that Windows has going for it is excellent hardware (and a lot less bloatware). Again, what attracts people most to Apple is the software and interface. But if you’ve found a computer that performs according to your standards, adjusting and adapting to the new interface will be worth it.

Lastly, they call it PC gaming for a reason. And that reason is that Windows is undoubtedly better for gaming than Mac.

Things to Remember to Move when Switching from Windows to Mac

You probably won’t be moving software over to your new Windows PC – as you can imagine, you’ll have to get used to the Windows equivalents of your favorite Mac apps.

So, what you’ll need to move is your files (documents, images, videos, etc.). Unfortunately, Windows doesn’t have an equivalent of Mac’s Migration Assistant, so you’ll need to choose between cloud storage and an external hard drive when moving your files and accounts to the new PC.

You can use cloud storage like Google Backup and Sync or OneDrive to move your folders and accounts to the cloud, and then download them all to your new computer in a big zip file. Then you can arrange all of them one by one to complete your “move-in.” As OneDrive is a Microsoft product, they offer some useful guides on how to complete the process step-by-step.

Your other option is using an external hard drive. Some people don’t like to have their private files “up there on the cloud,” and if you’re one of them – use a hard drive. They’ve gotten smaller, more affordable, and more spacious (storage-wise) over the years. The cool thing about external hard drives is that you may also decide that you don’t need all those videos on your new computer after all, so you can just keep them archived on the hard drive.

What to Expect When Switching from Windows to Mac

One thing that most converts unanimously miss is the resourceful trackpad that comes with Mac laptops. Depending on which brand PC you buy, you may end up with a trackpad with similar, though not quite the same, characteristics and features. If you’re still having trouble getting used to the new trackpad, you can always get a wireless mouse.

Let’s take a look at other things you’ll need to expect when you switch from a Mac to a PC.

Meet Your New Finder: Windows File Explorer

Mac users usually prefer Finder to the Windows File Explorer. However, as Windows has grown, so has its exploring. File Explorer has become more user-friendly and easy to navigate. Hierarchies are quite clear, it has a tabbed interface, allows you to easily copy, paste, cut (not as easily done in Finder), move, and rename files. The tabbed interface makes it easier to move files around via drag-and-drop.

Find the Windows Counterparts to Your Favorite Mac Programs

Earlier, we talked about how Mac is usually the preferred choice of graphic designers and video editors thanks to the broad array of apps that are only available for Mac. But things are changing and you’ll likely be able to find decent replacements for your new Windows laptop.

Except for specific programs, there are general apps that every computer user needs and which you’ll find are different on windows. For instance:

  • Pages becomes Microsoft Word (a part of Microsoft Office);
  • FaceTime becomes Skype;
  • Numbers becomes Microsoft Excel (a part of Microsoft Office);
  • iCloud becomes OneDrive;
  • Safari becomes Microsoft Edge (which you’ll use at least once to download Google Chrome);

There’s no alternative to GarageBand, but you can always download Audacity, a free and open-source sound mixing platform that’s great if you’re looking to start your own podcast. It may not be as easy-to-use or sleek-looking as GarageBand, but once you get the hang of it, it’s straightforward enough.

Get Used to the New Keyboard

We already mentioned that one of the pleasant surprises that comes with a Windows laptop is a numerical keyboard.

Still, using a new, different keyboard is like adapting to a foreign body. It’ll take a while before you stop pressing the alt key by mistake, expecting the command key to be there – it’s not. It’s not anywhere else on the keyboard, either. With Windows laptops, the control key, ctrl, reigns supreme. The vast majority of keyboard shortcuts rely on the control key. And it’s not where the command key is on Apple laptops, either – it’s at the bottom-left most corner of the keyboard.

Once you get used to the key placement, though, it’s smooth sailing. In a lot of cases, you’ll simply have to replace cmd with ctrl. If you skipped the previous section on switching from Windows to Mac, here’s an example of what the replacement shortcuts look like:

Ctrl + P = Cmd + P (print)

Ctrl + C = Cmd + C  (copy)

Ctrl + V = Cmd + V (paste)

Ctrl + X = Cmd + X (cut)

Ctrl + S = Cmd + S (save)

Ctrl + A = Cmd + A (select all)

Ctrl + Z = Cmd + Z (undo last command)

Now, if you’re wondering where the alt, shift, and windows keys enter the picture, here are some additional shortcuts that use them:

Alt + tab (switch between windows)

Alt + F4 (close current window)

Shift + Delete (permanently delete item)

Control + Alt + Delete (control options, such as locking, task manager, or account switch).

Windows + M (to minimize all running windows)

Spotlight Is No More, but the Search Bar Is Here

Rather than pressing command + space to get access to Spotlight, you now just need to press the Windows key to get the Windows search bar. You can also just bring your pointer to the bottom-left corner of the screen, where the search bar is waiting for you.

You can type in the name of any sort of file (document, image, video), folder, settings, or program, and it will swiftly be fetched back for you. You can also choose to see web results on the item you’ve searched.

While the Windows search bar isn’t as much of an assistant as Spotlight, it’s easy to use and resourceful enough.

Do You Need an Antivirus?

Windows isn’t as prone to viruses as it was in the past, even if it is still somewhat more susceptible than Apple. However, for the average user, and one who is reasonably cautious in their browsing/ torrenting/ downloading/ using-someone-else’s-USBs, there are two native Windows apps that are quite sufficient. The first one is Windows Defender Firewall. You can find it in your search bar or in the Control Panel.

The other native app is Firewall & Network Protection, which you can find in System Settings.

Still, if you prefer stronger security, consider getting Norton or Kaspersky. They’re both tried-and-trusted antiviruses that have been keeping Windows safe for decades.

Enjoy the Flexibility

One of the things that put Windows computers ahead of their Apple counterparts is the degree of flexibility you get with customizing your desktop and interface, picking new apps (some of which are even free) to replace their Apple-world twins, and just overall putting your computer together. You can always choose to mix and match software, and in some cases even configure your hardware to end up with the perfect computer for you.

Don’t Postpone Updates

We’re back to updates one last time.

Windows 10 has automatic updates that will do what they do regardless of your plans. While you can postpone those updates to a time outside your active hours, doing this too often will result in Windows just updating while you’re in the middle of work. For instance, if you set up a time for the update in the middle of the night, you may forget to leave your computer turned on once you’re done with work. So the next day – or a day, eventually – Windows will update itself while you’re doing something important.

As you can see, it’s advisable to get your software updated as soon as something new comes up. It gives you the opportunity to save what you’re working on and just plain get the update on your own terms. They don’t usually last that long, anyway. Plus, isn’t it for the best if your programs and security are up-to-date and working as smoothly as possible?

Of course, practice makes perfect, so it may take a couple of middle-of-work updates for you to finally just give in at the right time.

A Few Final Words…

Whichever direction you’re making the switch in, you’ll find that all it takes is time to get used to the new programs, specs, and interface. Once you’re done with these growing pains, you’ll find that there’s something to appreciate in the change, even if you do keep missing a feature or two from your old OS.

It’s difficult to say this operating system is better than that one because that’s a subjective matter. It largely depends on what the user prefers. Of course, it can be said that Windows has become a great deal more user-friendly and secure over the years, which has made picking the “better” option all the more impossible.

In the end, we hope that you’ll be happy with your new computer and enjoy all that it has to offer.

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