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Switching from PC to Mac? Top 10 Things You Should Know

Control key on an Apple wireless keyboard

Image via Wikipedia

Are you considering switching from a PC to a Mac? You might have an iPhone™, iPod™ or iPad™ and are ready to take the plunge on switching out your home computer.

You’re not alone. As of November 2011, Apple’s Mac has reached 5.2% of worldwide computer sales, and in the home segment, Mac’s growth was 25.6% versus 4% for the overall market.

Here are 10 things you should know if you’re making the switch or have recently done so:

1. The keyboard is different!

The keyboard is perhaps the most visible difference when switching to the Mac, and one of the trickiest. Long-time users have to overcome a certain amount of muscle memory and relearn commands and where the keys are placed. Many Mac keyboards don’t have some of the special keys, including forward delete, page up and down, home, and end. While there are keyboard commands to accomplish the same tasks, they need to be relearned.

Common keyboard shortcuts, such as Ctrl-S for Save and Ctrl-P for Print are available, but use the Command key (a cloverlike symbol or the Apple logo) instead of the Control key. The delete key on the Mac doesn’t delete files or icons on the desktop; press the Apple and backspace keys instead. Ctl-Alt to switch between open applications is Command-Tab on the Mac. The equivalent for the command CTRL-ALT-Delete that opens up Windows Task Manager is Command-Option-Esc.

The right mouse button doesn’t exist on the Mac mouse, but connecting a Windows mouse would work just as well on the Apple hardware. It’s also possible to bring up the menu associated with the right mouse button by holding down the control key when clicking on the mouse.

2. Installing Applications

A new computer, regardless of the operating system, means new software applications need to be installed. Macs come with the iLife suite, which means there are many applications already available on the base system, but users will still want to install new tools. Installation in the Mac world is very different from a PC; all users have to do is download the software, and then drag the icon that appears on the desktop into the Applications folder.

Apple also offers the Mac App Store, which works a little like iTunes for iPhone and iPad apps. Find the desired program in the Mac App Store, buy it, and the software handles the installation process seamlessly. There’s no need to worry about license keys or trying to figure out where it should go.

Un-installation is done by simply dragging the icon to the trash folder.

3. That’s fine, but where are my applications?

The best place to look for the applications is in the dock at the bottom of the screen. The dock displays the icons of programs that are used most often. You can add applications to the dock simply by dragging the icon into the area, while dragging the icon off the dock removes (but doesn’t uninstall the program). If a particular application is not in the dock, the easiest thing to do is to search for it using Spotlight on the top right corner. Some applications and tools can be found on the Apple menu at the upper left corner of the screen as well.

The Mac equivalent of the Windows Control Panel is called System Preferences, which is available either from the Dock or the Apple menu, and is home to most system configuration tasks.

4. Migrating your data

The introduction of iCloud has simplified the process of moving documents, images and video from a PC Mac (provided the PC has Windows Vista Service Pack 2 or Windows 7 installed). On the original PC, download the iCloud Control Panel for Windows from the Apple Website.  Launching the iCloud option from the Windows Control Panel opens up a configuration screen with a list of iCloud services that can be enabled. After entering the Apple ID that was used to create the iCloud account, Web browser bookmarks, images, contacts, calendar and e-mail can all be synced between the PC and the cloud service.

On the Mac, all the information on iCloud can be downloaded and synced automatically.

Older Windows systems that can’t support iCloud will need to use one of the many cloud-based storage services such as Jungle Disk or Dropbox. If all else fails, all the information can be copied onto an external drive which can then be connected to the Mac.

5. Running Windows on the Mac

Even as Mac OS X gain in popularity, there are still some third-party applications, such as printer drivers and games, that won’t run properly on Macs. And even though many things are easier on Macs, there are still certain programs that work better on Windows. Which means that some users will need to find a way to run Windows on their Mac.

There are several ways to do so, such as using virtualization software from VMware or Parallels, or using the Mac’s free Boot Camp software. Boot Camp 4 on Mac OS X Lion runs only Windows 7, so users would have to dig up Boot Camp 3 to run older versions of Windows, such as Vista or even XP.

Once Windows is installed on Boot Camp, the user can toggle back and forth by rebooting the box. VMware doesn’t require reboots as it runs Windows inside a virtual machine.

6. Keeping the system ready and up to date

Unlike Microsoft, which pushes out regular updates once a month, Apple has an erratic schedule when it comes to updating its software and operating system. Mac users should open the Apple menu and set up the Software Update preferences under System Preferences. The dialog box will allow users to specify how frequently to ping Apple’s servers to find the latest update.

7. Passwords?

Passwords are saved inside what is called a keychain, and prompt the user every single time you to install software. It makes the system secure, overall, since malicious applications can’t just install themselves.

8. Backups

Mac users have access to an application called Time Machine which, along with an external hard drive, can be used to back up important images, video and documents.  If an external drive is not available, Time Machine can look at local backups, or snapshots, to access archived or older copies of content.

Mac OS X Lion allows Auto-Save to be a system-wide feature, where applications hook into Time Machine to find copies of the document that had been auto-saved. It’s even possible to grab pieces out of that version instead of having to restore the entire file to an older copy.

9. File Sharing

Mac OS X Lion has a feature called AirDrop, which simplifies file transfers between two Mac users. AirDrop can create a secure peer-to-peer network between two computers if they are in close enough proximity to each other. The file is sent directly and the folders on the computer remain private.

10. Where are the files?

While it’s not important for Mac users to worry about the file structure on the computer, following certain conventions and saving to a consistent location simplifies matters when running Time Machine or using iCloud. Saving everything to the home folder instead of the desktop or somewhere on the hard drive makes it easier to keep track of personal data.

Instead of tossing out the PC when the new Mac arrives, it’s probably best to run them both side by side for a while and slowly wean yourself off of the PC. There are a few things to get used to, new keyboard shortcuts to learn and few tasks to complete before the switchover can be considered a success.


Contributed by a writer at This is a guest post and the opinions of the author may not reflect those of Rackspace.


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About the Author

This is a post written and contributed by Angela Bartels.

Angela runs integrated marketing campaigns for Rackspace. She started at Rackspace in 2003 and has done everything from Linux support, account management, sales, product marketing and now lives in marketing. She left Rackspace in 2005 to work for PEER 1 Hosting but returned in 2009 because she was interested in the cloud computing movement (and has always been a Racker at heart). Angela is a strong believer in the power of storytelling.

  • M Noivad

    There are a number of minor errors in the article. Unforutenately, some could lead to major headaches.
    (1) Right-click has existed on the mac for over a decade, and almost all USB mice, and their various number of buttons and scroll wheels are supported natively. Few mice need drivers these days (Razer mice come to mind considering their beefier capabilities.) Even before the second mouse button was added, control-clicking was comparable to a right-click and still works to pull up a contextual menu to this day. Also, option-click and command-click were also introduced long before there were 2 button mice available for the Mac. (If a convert doesn’t know what each one does try command clicking a folder title or option clicking a file menu in most apps to access more advanced features.)

    (2) Most applications can be installed and uninstalled by clicking and dragging to the location you wish. However, there are many that require additional components be added to either the user or system library or other underpinning location hidden from most users. Removing some of these is best accomplished with their uninstaller. Not using an uninstaller on a small number of these applications can cause system instability or worse because components that are expected to be certain places are missing.

    Luckily, widgets, Safari extensions and control panes are usually installed simply by double clicking on them.

    (3) Applications, by default are placed in the /Applications folder (directory) at the root of the boot drive. Utilities are often placed in the Applications/Utilities folder. Also, applications cannot be added to the Apple Menu without UI enhancement utilities. So, only Software Update and the App Store can be directly accessed under the Apple menu. Applications under the Apple Menu was an OS 8 & 9 feature.

    (6) Updates are enabled by default or selected when the user first boots their Mac. There is usually no need to change it, but it is good to know where to check. (Also, Software Update check can be manually launched from the Apple Menu.)

    All other advice is good.


  • jake

    I think this is a realy good guide. I am switching to a mac mini base model this Christmas and am going to use it as my main computer. I will be installing windows via boot camp for some gaming. I have been studying up on it and found out that there are ways to install xp with os x lion thanks for the guide though. it was realy helpful to know about the keyboard and things like that

  • Hisham Eid

    Hi,i have just switched to mac. these advise is very useful.
    sending a thank you from Egypt.

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