Switching to the Mac from Windows

Congratulations if you have bought, or about to buy your first Mac. This article sets out some great resources to make the transition from Windows to Mac as easy and seamless as possible. It will generally take most people about a week to get used to the Mac Operating System (OS). At the time of writing this article the present release of the Mac OS is 10.8 Mountain Lion.

Step 1 – Prepare for the arrival of your new Mac.

Decide what you are going to do with the files and data on your PC, are you going to move them to your Mac? If you are then I suggest you do some housekeeping first, as you don’t want to move over junk that you don’t need.

Before you start housekeeping, make sure that you have a complete backup of your PC. Just in case you delete something that you later decide that you wanted to keep.

Then go through all your documents, data, movies and music etc. and delete any junk. You may want to archive to an external drive or CD, any old documents that you are unlikely to use in the future.

Now is a good time to be ruthless with your email accounts. Delete all junk and unwanted mail, clear your inbox and make sure your folder structure is what you want moving forward.

Finally you may want to check that all of your peripherals are compatible with your new Mac. Mac support is pretty good these days, but if your camera / printer / scanner is a few years old it might not have support in the latest version of OS X. For example Canon can be bad at providing updated OS X support for its older scanners. A list of currently supported printers and scanners is here.

Step 2 – Getting familiar with your new Mac

Apple have produced a number of great short video tutorials on their website, here. The videos are generally only about 5 minutes long, and are a great introduction to using the Mac.

Apple  Find Out How  Mac Basics

The key ones are highlighted in a red box (skip iChat for now) , which are :

  • PC to Mac: The Basics
  • Personalizing Your Mac
  • Finder Basics
  • Exposé Basics
  • Using Safari
  • Mail Basics
  • Organizing Your Mail

Apple also has two great resource portals, that contain a lot of useful information for new Mac Users :

Switch 101 – A very useful resource for Windows users switching to the Mac and trying to work how to get something done in OS X that they are used to in Windows. Take a look at Welcome to Mac that has a great article on Moving from Windows Explorer to the Finder , and a step by step comparison of common windows functions and commands and there Mac equivalents. Also in Switch 101 are sections on migrating your files from PC to Mac and connecting your devices to your Mac.

Mac 101 – Another Apple Portal that replicates some of the information in Switch 101, but is worth taking a look at for the tour of the OS X Mountain Lion features

Step 3 – Migration Assistant

The Mac has a great tool, called the Migration Assistant, which is used to move your files automatically from your PC to your Mac. You can transfer your user account—including all of your pictures, music, and files.

You can easily move your Windows files to your new Mac and use them with Mac applications. Macs can open many different kinds of files from your PC, as long as you have appropriate software installed that can interpret them.

For example, you can move all of your Microsoft Office documents to your Mac if you have Microsoft Office for Mac OS X installed—Office functions almost exactly the same on a Mac as it does on a PC. Likewise, you can move any Photoshop (.psd) file to your Mac and open it as long as you have Adobe Photoshop (or Photoshop Elements) for Mac installed .

Lion MigrationAssistant

The Migration assistant can transfer the following from your PC to the Mac

  • Your custom desktop picture from your PC is set as your desktop picture.
  • Your email accounts, which include your email messages and attachments, are set up in Mail.
  • Your contacts are in Address Book.
  • Your calendar accounts, which include your meetings and events, are set up in iCal.
  • Your web browser’s bookmarks, favorites, and homepage are setup in Safari.
  • Your iPhone or iPod touch applications you bought in iTunes on your PC are in iTunes on your Mac.
  • If your music was in iTunes on your PC, your music is also on iTunes on your Mac.
  • Your Files from My Documents (Documents), My Videos (Videos), My Music (Music), or My Pictures (Pictures) folders are in the Documents, Movies, Music, or Pictures folders in Finder.
  • Your Files from the PC’s desktop are on your Mac’s desktop.

Information on how to use the Migration assistant can be found on Apple’s Website, here.

Step 4 Common Issues for first time Mac users

Exiting an Application

In OS X Every application and document window has three colored buttons (Red, Yellow and Green) in the upper left corner:


  • Red button closes the window.
  • Yellow button minimizes the window into the Dock. Click the window icon in the Dock to restore it.
  • Green button will zoom the window to show its content. Click again to return the window size.

The area for confusion for Windows users switching to the Mac, is they are used to Windows closing the Application when the document is closed. On the Mac when you close the document, the Application is still open. To close the Application on the Mac you have to either go to the Application menu and choose quit, or with the application as the active application press  the keyboard shortcut ⌘ and Q.

Safari Quit

Pressing the Control Key Instead of the Command Key

On Windows computers, shortcuts are based on the control (CTRL) key.  CTRL+V top paste, CTRL+C to copy.

However, on the Mac most of these shortcuts are the same, but use the COMMAND (⌘) key.  ⌘+V to paste, ⌘+C to copy.

Since Mac OS 10.7 cut and paste have been implemented in the Finder,  although it works a little differently than Windows. In the Finder, you don’t cut the file, but select the files that you want to move, press ⌘+c. Then to move the file to a new location you press alt+⌘+v instead of ⌘+v.

Installing Applications

It is simple to install applications on OS X. First of all, Mac applications are commonly packaged as .dmg archives. Once you have downloaded the file from the internet, your Mac places the file in your downloads folder. The Apple Web Browser, Safari has a show downloads button on the far right of the toolbar. Click this and drag the .dmg file to the desktop with your mouse.

Firefox Download

To install the program, open the .dmg archive by double clicking on it, and a “virtual drive” will mount on your desktop. A window will pop up in Finder with the icon of the application you’re installing. To install, simply drag that icon into your Applications folder and its installed!

Firefox Install

Now, eject the “virtual drive” by dragging it into the trash can or pressing the corresponding Eject button in Finder. You can then delete the .dmg archive, by dragging it to Trash, or right-click on the file and chose ‘Move to Trash’.

Click to unmount

Some larger applications, such as iTunes, come in .pkg installers. Launch the .pkg file, and an InstallShield-like installer will open. Simply follow the instructions shown on the Installer to install .pkg files.

Finally OS X comes with a Built in App Store, this is the best way to buy applications, as your Mac will handle the installation process after  the Application has been bought. It will automatically alert you when updates become available, and will allow you to install the same application on other Macs that use the same App Store Account in your house at no additional cost. Not all software is available in the Mac App store, but I would check it first, before buying from a store or the developers’ website.

Uninstall applications

Uninstalling applications is as easy as dragging the application from the application folder onto the trash icon in the Dock. Some Applications do come with a dedicated uninstall utility that can normally be found in the Application folder.

Step 5. Learning more about your Mac

Screencastsonline has produced a great (currently free) Mac Application, available on the Mac App Store, called SCOTutor for Mac.


It’s a comprehensive Mac Tutorial Video that runs for 157 Minutes and covers 12 major topics organised into 75 topics. It’s aimed at new users and switchers and covers a lot of material.

  • Introduction to the Mac
  • Exploring the OS X Desktop
  • Applications and your Mac
  • Introduction to the Finder
  • Auto Save & Versions
  • Introduction to Apple Mail
  • Using Apple Mail
  • Managing Application Windows
  • Printing and Scanning
  • Sharing with the Mac
  • Using the Safari Web Browser
  • Users, Accounts & Parental Controls
  • Time Machine

Further Steps

Once you are familiar with your Mac, you will want to add additional software. Most people will want a word processor, spreadsheet and perhaps a presentation application. I wrote an article that discusses the suitability of Microsoft Office for Mac, compared to Apple’s iWork suite, which can be found here.

Other useful Applications are:

1Password for creating and keeping safe, secure passwords on Mac, Windows and your mobile devices.

Dropbox for sharing files transparently across your Macs, PCs and Mobile devices.

Flip4Mac that allows you to open and play Windows Media Player files in Quicktime and Safari.

Also once you have moved your files and data over from your PC, you should consider a solid backup solution, a good first step is Apple’s own backup software that comes with OS X, called Time Machine. I have written an overview of Time Machine here.

I hope you find this information useful, but most importantly I hope you really enjoy your new Mac.





  1. Go to  September 16, 2012

    Greetings! Very useful advice within this article!
    It’s the little changes that produce the greatest changes. Thanks a lot for sharing!

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