The Mac-way: What Every Switcher Needs to Know

Note: This article is semi-out of date. It was originally published in March of 2007 by Mike Kaye. I’m currently in the process of updating it, and once this disclaimer is gone, consider it up to date.

The most difficult part about Switching to Mac is the overwhelmed feeling you get when you finally bring your new highly anticipated Mac home and start it up the first time… then it hits you… and you realize you have no idea what you’re doing? Many thoughts go through your mind like; What did I just do? Where is my right-click button? How do I turn this thing off? I think I should call-in sick tomorrow?

iMac Box

Just remember you may have spent the better part of your computing life using Windows and so you naturally have a Windows mindset, almost like being brainwashed into a way of thinking, good or bad it’s what you know! The good news is there is a better way, it’s called the Mac-way, you just have to discover it and yes it does take some time. Kinda like learning how to use that new fancy cellphone with all the different menus and features, all in the wrong places… but wait, after a few days that new, previously frustrating cellphone comes into its own and you realize it is actually good and not of the devil.

So before you sadly package-up that beautiful new Mac and head for the return counter at your local Mac superstore, you owe it to your future-self to read the rest of this article. With this new found knowledge and a few persistent days getting to know your Mac you will soon be on your way to the Mac-way!

Starting your Mac up for the first time

Apple really has one of the nicest Startup Welcoming Screens (running at full resolution not some “I don’t know what video card 640×480 default screen”) ready to walk you from start to finish setting up your Mac in a matter of minutes, ready to surf the Web and load your new Mac to the hilt with movies, pictures, music, and programs, and don’t worry about you activation code, there isn’t one!

Migration Assistant

First Look around

Desktop icons:

The first thing you will notice is that the desktop icons are on the wrong side or are they? A bit of R&D will tell you that most people are right handed and prefer to click, grab and drag from right to left. (Would you want to constantly reach across your dinner plate to grab your glass of milk situated on the left of your plate, no that’s why we put our milk on the right side, it’s easier and we spill less this way!)

The Task-bar:

Here we go again, why is the Task-bar thingy at the top? Unless your a hunchback, (really sorry if you are) why would you want to constantly look down to do everything, if it was better to have useful information at the bottom then why are newspaper headings, book titles and Web page logos all at the top, because that’s where our eyes naturally go for information. Apple calls this the Menu-bar rather than the Task-bar, maybe tasks sound too much like work, I prefer the menu, it reminds me of ordering food…um… hungry… where where we?

Mac Menu Bar

Start Menu:

Apple keeps the Start-menu concept to a minimum, it’s not really used as a do everything, get at everything tool, Apple calls this the Apple-menu and it is used for getting at important features like; accessing info on your Mac, Software updating, sleeping, logging out, shutting down, getting to your system preferences and accessing recent items.

The Dock:

Apple also has what’s called the Dock, it’s usually at the bottom of the screen but can also be moved to the left or right side. The Dock is used as a catch all for links to programs and to show running programs (running programs will have a small black triangle under them), you can drag and drop just about anything in and out of the Dock even folders. The Dock is also the place where minimized windows go when you want them out of the way (complete with a nice mini preview window of the running program right there in the Dock). The Dock has some really cool animations, you may find yourself unknowingly panning left to right for no reason just to see its wave-like animations. Try this – start playing a QuickTime Movie and then minimize it (yellow button), now go find it playing in the Dock.

The Mac Dock

Mounted Stuff
My Computer:

No need to go to the “My Computer” window to see what’s up with your drives, CDs, DVDs, mounted drives and any other type of media. Simply take a look on your desktop, by default all your devices and media just all show up on your desktop. (You can easily hide all or some of the devices on your desktop by going to the Finder/Preferences menu and checking the appropriate boxes, if you do this you will need to click on the Finder icon situated in the left side of the Dock to access your devices and media.) If you are wanting to connect a Network drive you can access this by going through the Finder/Go/Networks menu or press “shift +⌘ (Apple Key) + K”.

Windows Explorer:

Apple uses what they call the Finder to navigate around your Mac, if you click anywhere on your desktop you are in Finder mode, if you click on the Finder icon in your Dock (far left) you are in Finder mode, If you click on your hard drive icon you are in Finder mode. If you want to just poke around and see what’s up in your Finder you can double click on your desktop hard drive icon, you will see a column to your left that contains a top portion and bottom portion.

The top left column is to display Drives, Networks and Media, the bottom usually displays Shortcuts or Aliases to commonly used directories, these are customizable, you can remove or ad items by dragging and dropping them. The main top window portion is for navigation similar to a Web browser, you have left and right pointers for taking a step back or forward, to the right are some View options buttons: icon, list or column mode.

I personally prefer columns mode view as it gives me a tree-like view of where I have been and where I am going as well as a nice preview feature. Further to the right is a gear-like button, this displays a contextual menus for accessing features like: get info, make new folder, move to trash… You can also use the right click feature to do the same thing. More to the right is a search window, the reason for this is obvious… to search for stuff.

Apple also has a very powerful built-in search engine called Spotlight that is located in the menu bar on the far right side – it looks like a magnifying glass. Lastly in the main Finder window is a small oblong button, this is used to simplify your main Finder window and make it absolutely minimalistic.

Mac Finder

Now getting back to navigating through your main hard drive and what’s actually on your Mac. Click on the hard drive icon in the left column Finder window, you should see four main folders, Applications, Libraries, Systems and Users. Forget about the Libraries and System folders for now because if you have Admin access (which most of you probably do) you can do some serious damage by moving stuff around in there. So that leaves us with Applications and Users.

Go ahead and look in the Applications folder, that’s where all the fun stuff is and where it’s all going to go, put your new programs in the Applications folder. Now for the Users folder, This is where you exist on your Mac, you will have at least one User in there and that should be you, any other Users you setup will also go in here but you will not be able to access other Users data unless you are logged in as them and vice verse.

Here is a tip when backing up your computer: You do not need to backup your Applications, Applications can always be reinstalled, what you do need to backup is your user directory, this contains all your pictures, movies, documents, email, preferences…

Control Panels:

On a Mac they are called System Preferences, what’s in a name? There are three ways to get at the System Preferences, here’s one way. Click on the Apple menu icon (Top Left) and look down just a bit, you will see System Preferences, click on it. What’s really nice about Apple’s System Preferences is thoughtfully grouped layout. Using the Apple System Preferences should be very similar to what you are used to when using a Windows PC just more Mac like and logical.

System Preferences

Red, Yellow, Green buttons, is this an intersection?

Red Yellow Green Intersection, not a bad analogy! Lets stick with it. The red button is like the red light on a traffic light – like saying stop or close. The yellow light is like the yellow light on a traffic light telling the open window not to stop or go but somewhere in between, like when you don’t want to use the program or quit it. By clicking the yellow button open window just goes away for a while into your Dock until you are ready for it again.

Many PC users find the Green button to be the most confusing. I guess because each program handles it a bit differently. Think of it more like a toggle between two set sizes and those sizes are determined by you. When you click the green button the window will go from one size to the other size. Some programs will default the expanded size to fit your screen and others will default the expanded size to fit the width and hight of the actual item you are viewing.

For example, why do you need white space on each side of a Website page, isn’t it better to have the expanded view size automatically to the width of the Web page leaving you with more valuable actual desktop space for other running programs?

I thought I closed that program? Why won’t it just quit!!!

Quit ProgramAwe the frustration this has caused veteran Windows users. I can tell a new Mac user in about 1.2 seconds, all I need to do is take a look at all the running programs in their Dock, just about every program they have on their Mac is running in the Dock! (running programs will have a black triangle under them). Mac OS X handles ram and running programs well so this is not a big deal but it will slow down you machine a bit especially if you don’t have lots of ram.

So how do you quit that persistent program and why doesn’t it just quit when you press the red button? On a Mac, when you press the red button (Top left on program window) it closes the window, not the program, unless it’s a one window program like say the System Preferences, then it will close the program. Why is this?

Basically on a Mac the menu is not part of the program window, it’s always at the top of your computer and it adapts to whatever program you are actively using, for example if you are using Safari it will show Safari related menu items, if you click on your desktop it will then show Finder related menu items. (try switching between active programs and watch the menu change, you can always tell what program is active by looking to the left beside the Apple Logo, it will say the name of the program.)

You can also cycle through your running programs by pressing and holding the ⌘ (Apple Key) key then tapping the “tab” key (like on a Windows PC). So if you really want to close a program all you need to do is make sure the program you want to quit is active and then in the File menu (Click on the name of the program) and select “Quit name of program” You can also use the key command ⌘ (Apple Key) + Q.

I want my disk now! Removing – ejecting media.

Eject Key

Yes there is an eject button (top left on an Apple keyboard), just highlight the device you want to remove or eject and then press the eject key, if for some reason you don’t have this key you can also press the ⌘ (Apple Key) + E key. If you are using a true-Windows keyboard with your Mac and have not remapped the modifier keys (System Preferences/Keyboard & Mouse/Keyboard/Modifier Keys) then you can try pressing the key two over from the space bar on the left side instead of the ⌘ (Apple Key).

You also have yet another option for ejecting and removing devices and media, you can simply drag the device or media to the trash can and erase everything, your Mac will use the energy absorbed from it as fuel to run… Just kidding, it will not erase anything it will safely remove-unmount or eject your device-media.

Stupid non-Right-clicking Mac Mouse!

Yes a Mac has a right-click button, here’s a hint if you can’t find it, it’s on the right side of your mouse! OK if it still isn’t working then open your System Preferences and select the Keyboard & Mouse Preference and make sure your right mouse button is set to Right-click. While your there have a look around at all the options.

What if you have a Laptop and you want to be able to Right-click with the trackpad? Easy, using the same System Preferences/ Keyboard & Mouse Preference, click the trackpad tab, look about three quarter of the way down and you will see a check box option that says “Place two fingers on trackpad and click button for secondary click”. And if that’s not enough you can always hold down the “ctrl” button while using the regular left mouse button making it act like a right-click. So please-please don’t say Macs can’t right click!!

Right Click

Opening a File or Application.

Opening or launching an Application or File is as simple as just double-clicking it, you can also select it or a group of files and press the ⌘ (Apple Key) + O keys to open them. Sometimes you may want a file or document to open in a different Application than its default program, this is done by click-dragging it over the Application icon you want it to launch in, the Application icon can be in your Applications folder or even in your Doc. Yet another way to do this is by right-clicking the document and then choosing the Open With option, you will be presented with a list of possible Application that support that specific document.

“Bob was here” Changing a file or folder names.

I know most of you are used to using the Windows PC menu option to rename a file or folder and have probably spent hours looking around your Mac for such a menu option… Sorry you will have to live with that name forever! Of course I’m kidding, here’s what you do: Click on the file, folder or device drive once so that it highlights, wait a second or two and the click it once again, now start typing. That was easy, bet you feel silly now?

I’ve installed it 3 times now, where did it go? Installing Programs.

Disk Image

There are two common ways a program will install on a Mac, the very Windows like way where an installer window pops up and guides you through the install, in this case most installers will place the program automatically in your Applications folder all ready and waiting for you. Then there is the other common way programs tend to be installed. This second way requires a bit more interaction and may seem a bit strange but once you get the hang of it it’s really fast and you always know exactly what you just installed and where it’s going. This type of install usually goes as follows:

  1. Download a file with the extension name of either “.zip” or “.dmg” (a “.zip” file is a compressed file that will usually uncompress becoming a folder or “.dmg” file)
  2. Double-click on the the “.zip” file to uncompress it to the Folder or “.dmg” file. (Macs have system wide built in compression software that will do this for you)
  3. Now you have either a Folder or a ‘.dmg” file, if you have the “.dmg” file double-click it again and your Mac will automatically mount it so it becomes what looks like a removable disk on your desktop.
  4. Treat the Folder and Mounted disk the same way, look inside and you will usually see some sort of instruction as well as the actual Application or Program, for the most part all you have to do is drag the program to your Applications folder and you’re done. Many new Mac Users make the mistake of running the program from the Disk image or Folder and yes it will work but it’s not really installed, if you remove the Disk image or throw the Folder into the trash when cleaning house the program goes with it so to speak.

All mine! Sharing your Mac with others.

By now some of you most likely have figured out how to share certain aspects of your Windows PC like a connected printer, networked folders and maybe even an Internet connection. Lord knows it wasn’t easy learning how to do it then. The Mac-way will surprise you at its ease and simplicity. Go to your System Preferences and select the Sharing option, under the Services tab you will see check-boxes for Personal File Sharing, Windows Sharing, and Printer Sharing. Select them and your done, you now have a Mac that can be seen and shared on a network and printed to from a PC or Mac.

*The PC will need to install Bonjour for Windows.

*For Mac Windows sharing you also need to chose which Mac accounts you want the PC to be able to have access of via the Accounts tab under Windows Sharing.

Mac Sharing

Stop shutting it down it’s not a PC! Sleep mode, and Restarting.

Most PC users are accustomed to shutting down their computers every time they’re finished using it, sometimes the PC will just do it for you, how nice! So what do you do when you get your Mac, you keep shutting it down… Stop it already! Your Mac likes to stay on, it can stay on for months at a time without the need for a restart, don’t worry it will tell you when it needs one, usually after a major system update.

By leaving your Mac on it’s always ready to go when you are and the added bonus is your Mac goes to work and does regular maintenance like defragging and cache cleaning while your away playing. If you have a Mac Laptop you may think you’re exempt from this… No! Don’t think, just close it and it goes to sleep, This is not like Windows Hibernation mode, When your Mac goes to sleep what actually happens is everything shuts down with the exception of just a very small amount of power to keep the system Ram running, the system Ram holds everything that you where doing before you put it to sleep, once you open your Mac Laptop it instantly wakes up and is ready to go!

You can even keep a Mac Laptop in sleep mode for weeks at a time. You can access the Sleep, Restart and Shut Down menus from the Apple Menu (Top Left), you can also access a pop-up version of this by pressing your Macs power button briefly.

Shut Down Mac

Backspace vs. Delete – Get over it!

The Mac delete key does exactly what the windows backspace key does, it deletes from right to left. If you must delete from left to right, press the function “fn”key at the same time. It’s a Mac not a PC, get over it! Many programs utilize the delete key for deletion purposes, the delete key can also be used in combination with the ⌘ (Apple Key) to select-delete a file, folder or program and send to to the trash-can.

I think my Mac is dead… Force Quiting your Mac.

Even Macs can act up from time to time, it’s a computer and computers like to show you who’s boss every once in a while so you’ll take care of them, it’s for your own good… If a program stops responding and won’t let you quit it the normal way, you can Force Quit it by pressing the “ctrl-alt-esc”. This prompts a window with a list of running programs, the offending application will usually be listed in red with (not responding) beside it. Select it and then press “Force Quit”.

Force Quit can also be accessed via the Apple Menu. Force quit will sometimes work when your entire Mac stops responding but it is less effective in this situation, you may have to Force-Shut Down your Mac by pressing and holding your Macs power button until your Mac shuts down (may take several seconds – be patient!)

Force Quit

Bad Mac – Basic Mac Maintenance and Trouble Shooting.

Here is a list of things you can do to give your Mac a quick tuneup:

Disk Utility:

This useful program can be used to fix disk permission, disk permission issues can result in applications not loading or exhibiting strange behavior, Disk permissions can also effect your User directory and the access to it. You can find the Disk Utility in the Applications/Utilities Folder, Launch it, click on the Hard drive icon for your main hard drive and then click the “Repair Disk Permissions” tab.

Disk Utility

Reset the PRAM and NVRAM:

When a Mac is just acting funny like taking a bit too long to boot-up, not coming out of sleep mode or even not booting up at all you can give the PRAM-NVRAM rest a try, as a tech this works amazingly well making you look like some sort of Mac-God with special powers. Here’s how you do it:

  1. Shut down the computer.
  2. Locate the following keys on the keyboard: Command, Option, P, and R. You will need to hold these keys down simultaneously in step 4.
  3. Turn on the computer.
  4. Press and hold the Command-Option-P-R keys. You must press this key combination before the gray screen appears.
  5. Hold the keys down until the computer restarts and you hear the startup sound for the second time.
  6. Release the keys.

Only on a Mac… Bet your old PC can’t do this!

Just a few of the cool things only on a Mac:

Print to PDF from anything: Want to save something like a confirmation but you don’t want to print it or maybe your just not sure if the person you want to send the document to has a program that can read it? Print to PDF allows you to take anything you can print and save it as a PDF. Go to print your document as normal but instead of pressing the Print tab on the right, press the PDF tab on the left and then select “Save as PDF”.

Print to PDF


Zoom in:

Bigger is better, sometimes you just need to see something a bit closer. First you need to make sure your Zoom option is turned on, open the System Preferences and select Universal Access, select the Zoom “On” radio box option. Now your ready to zoom on demand, this can be done several ways:

  1. Hold down the alt + ⌘ (Apple Key) keys and then zoom in and out by also pressing the “-” and “=” keys appropriately.
  2. Hold the “ctrl” key down and then use your Mac laptops trackpad two finger scroll or the button on a scroll button equipped mouse to zoom in and out.

Mac Zoom

Target Disk Mode:

Target Disk Mode is an awesome way to very Quickly move information around from Mac to Mac without the need to setup any kind of Networking. Because Target Disk Mode uses the FireWire ports on both Macs it’s really fast. Once your Macs are connected in this fashion, the Target Disk Macs hard drive will show up on your non-Target Disk Macs desktop like any other FireWire Drive would.

To use FireWire target disk mode:

  1. Make sure that the target computer is turned off. If you are using a PowerBook or iBook as the target computer, you should also plug in its AC power adapter.
  2. Use a FireWire cable (6-pin to 6-pin) to connect the target computer to a host computer. The host computer does not need to be turned off.
  3. Start up the target computer and immediately press and hold down the T key until the FireWire icon appears. The hard disk of the target computer should become available to the host computer and will likely appear on desktop. (If the target computer is running Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, you can also open System Preferences, choose Startup Disk, and click Target Disk Mode. Then restart the computer and it will start up in Target Disk Mode.)
  4. When you are finished copying files, drag the target computer’s hard disk icon to the Trash or select Put Away from the File menu (Mac OS 9) or Eject from the File menu (Mac OS X).
  5. Press the target computer’s power button to turn it off.
  6. Unplug the FireWire cable.

Comments [9]

  1. I am getting very frustrated. I was told that mac was easy but i have spend hours and cannot transfer my outlook contacts and email folders to entourage its unfortunate that the hype does not stand up to reality,

  2. Thank you very much for this site. I like my new mac, but there is one major problem for me. I found it very easy to troubleshoot my PC, usually by asking google and finding a lot of readily understandable technical solutions I rarely had trouble working out.

    When I get stuck on my mac and I search for help online there is usually a lot of stuff but almost all of it is written in tech speak and impenetrable – the apple forums often require specialist technical vocabulary and most of the alternative websites feel like they are written by martians. So where I most often mended my PC myself for the last ten years, I am stranded with my Mac. because so much of the 'help and advice' online is written in Martian

    That's the only reason I would suggest people might be better off with a PC, Otherwise, apart from the creative software, I don't find a great difference between the two, but the Mac has excellent creative toys and fonts.

    If you know any other Mac help sites which speak in ordinary english I would be grateful to hear from them. It can't be that hard as most of the PC sites are perfectly intelligible.

    I've learnt good and helpful things from your site as it's so clear and accessiblle. Thank you

  3. Zeba Hyder,

    There are plenty of ways to do what you want, but I do find it amusing you blame Mac when both programs are Microsoft.

    Don't get frustrated, take your time and remember that you are using something new and not everything will come naturally until you have logged some time on OS X.

  4. Thanks a lot for this very useful guide. I have remixed the content of this with some of my own to make a Word doc that I have used in a workshop. I have posted this online to my Scribd account but have given you credit both within the document and in the Scribd description. Please let me know if you are OK with having this online in this form. Here is the link:

  5. Just got my first Mac Book Pro for Christmas and I hate it. It's not better than a PC, it looks a hell of a lot better as far as the design goes, but as far as functionality, it's not as easy as all the Apple fanboys claim.

    It does have it's good points and bad points, but after using the PC for several years, it's just not an easy transition. Also, I can do anything on my PC that I can do on the mac. Sure the mac has some special effect thingys that it does, but switch because of that?

    I'll be installing either Fusion or Paralles on the mac book pro and utilizing the Windows side most of the time.

    We'll see how I feel after I've played around for a few weeks on the mac book pro, but right now, I don't see any advantages.

  6. i would just like to say thanks for your most informative page on the mac. and i would like to hereby announce… I am a convert. I've only been using this gorgeous machine for the past 2 weeks and it just is… well it's just freakin' awesome!… may i ask one question though… this whole thing about having to go to the top left hand corner and actually shut the program – or go press the "funky" key (you know the one… left of the spacebar) and press Q to actually close it… well it just seems a bit laborious… for people who mostly use a mouse. so my question is, is there any way to change the setting where if you press the red cross, the program completely is closed?… it's still no biggie if there isn't cos i don't think anything would get me to change my mind now. i am a hppy happy convert. and i also have a theory as to why it just appears that windows is better… what is popular is not always better… i think if you were able to simply buy an empty vessel and buy an Operating System disc (like you can with windows) then of course it would be popular… you cannot just walk into a store and buy an Apple disc to change your operating system… so there's my theory. Having said all this… my partner is still a windows user and we're getting along just fine so I'm not one of those who would have an attitude against a windows user… i simply have my own preference now. (maybe i was always a mac user, it just took a christmas present to bring it out in me). good day everyone! – and anyone who could help with my little query would be most welcome…

  7. how HARD it is to make Win keyboard with same shortcuts on the MAC platform?If there is such solution I am switching tomorrow from PC to mac.

  8. Sasa –… will show you how to remap your keyboard in OS X. It allows you to use a Windows keyboard and still have the "Apple Key" etc.

    In terms of actual keyboard shortcuts, a lot of them can be changed. Many are already similar to Windows (eg. "copy" is Apple Key + c and "paste" is Apple Key + v.

  9. I've used both PC's and Macs over the years, but the machines I've owned have all been PC's. Until yesterday. Yes, there are a lot of quirks I'm going to have to get used to. Yes, it doesn't behave the same as a windows machine.

    Those of you who are hung up on these things are forgetting that there is a HUGE difference where it really matters – in the basic design approach (architecture) of the OS. I've dumped windows finally so I can be free of all the bullshit that comes with it, such as viruses, corrupted registries, partitions, etc. I'm very happy to have found this site so I can move ahead with this. F-U Microsoft. I'm done. Bonjour Apple.

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