January 28, 2008

7 Tips I wish I knew before swapping my PC for a Mac.

I recently switched over to a Mac, after many years on a PC.

Actually that's not strictly true, I still have the PC and use it regularly, but my main tool of choice at the moment is my lovely Macbook.

Having used this for a while now (and blogged about it in previous posts ), I did some research and, using this research and my own experience, I wanted to put together the top 7 things that I wish I had been told before moving to the Mac

If you're wavering on whether to buy one or not, look at these tips and see if it sways you one way or another. If you've already bought one then cast an eye over these tips to see if they ring true

These are in no particular order and I am indebted to the folks over at Theappleblog for crystallizing some of the comments that were passing through my mind

  1. Just because the interface looks like Windows it isn't Windows: Just take the thing out of the box. Switch it on (The software will already be loaded) answer the couple of set-up questions and then play with the thing. Attach it to the Internet. Try iChat. Play with Garageband and iMovie and iDVD etc. Stick a DVD player in the slot and watch it. Surf the web in Safari. Spend time playing with the built in iSight camera (if you have one). But most of all just use it. Get used to how it operates. Get to used to what you need to do to start a program, stop a program, swap between programs. Most of all understand that this is a completely different operating system. Sure, it shares some commonality with the Windows operating system, but it isn't the Windows operating system. It's a different beast. Which leads directly into the following tip
  2. Try to look at this from the point of view of 'This is how the Mac works' rather than 'The PC does it this way and I want the Mac to do it the same way' (CTL-F4, for example): One of the problems you will have as a PC user is getting used to the GUI. You've spent years working on a system that uses CTL-F4 to close things, or where you can click the little 'x' in the top corner of a window to exit an application. Now you're in a system which is, superficially, the same (it has window panes that appear, it is controlled with a mouse and icons) but it works differently. You can't close an application by clicking the red icon. All that does is close the window that application is running. The itself application is still running!. CTL (or Apple) Q will quit the application. Sounds a little counter-intuitive but in actual fact it's only a different way of doing the same thing. Don't worry about the mouse only having one button, you can still make it work in a 'right-click' mode if needed. Don't worry about the fact that there is no apparent forward delete key (There is, actually. It's a combination of the function key and the delete key). Just accept that this is a different way of doing the same thing. It's not better, it's not worse. It's just different.
  3. Get Quicksilver and Firefox ASAP: These two applications are the most useful for a Mac. Mac's come preloaded with Safari and Spotlight which are two Mac created applications : A web browser and a tool for locating and executing applications on your machine. These work fine. In fact for many people these will be the two applications you want most for your Mac. But for various reasons (see below) I couldn't use Safari, so I installed Firefox. Installation is dead easy (but see the next point) and Firefox is a far superior web browser. Apart from the fact that it is more functional than, say IE, it is also extendable through the use of scripts, add-ins and widgets. This makes it almost a fully fledged application in itself. And what's more it's open source so its free! But even better than that is Quicksilver. It's best described as a launch tool, but it is so much more than that. It allows you to get to any part of your Mac and do stuff without actually having to load up or open the appropriate program. For instance, suppose I wanted to open the color meter tool which comes as standard. I could open finder, find the application folder, go to utilities, select the appropriate Icon and go. Or I could hit CTL-Space (The shortcut to invoke Quicksilver) type in 'col' so it selects the color applications and then hit enter. This will start the application. Spotlight does pretty much the same thing. But the beauty comes when I want to do something like add an even to my Google Calendar. Normally I would open Firefox, find my google calender, hit the 'Quick Add' option, type in the details and hit enter. With Quicksilver I hit CTL-Space to invoke, hit the '.' to start typing, type my 'quick add' entry and press enter. I have it set up to then automagically push that entry to Google calendar. This tool is configurable and extendable to the nth degree. Need to add a reminder to your GTD application? Quicksilver can do it. Need to go to a particular URL from within another application? Quicksilver can do it. Need to operate the controls of your iTunes without going into iTunes? Quicksilver can do it. It's a very useful facilitating tool for your Mac. And it's free!
  4. Installing stuff is different - I love the way you install stuff on the Mac. You download whatever you want to install, click the application icon and - when it opens the associated install window you drag the icon into your application folder. Easy! But then you're left with a DMG file and - possibly - an install drive that needs to be dealt with. What the hell is a DMG file anyway, and why do I need to eject an install program? Not easy questions to answer, but, once again that's how Mac does it.
  5. You can't tab between different windows like you can on the PC. Superficially as a Windows user I was used to being able to hit Alt and TAB to page through the different windows that were open on my desktop. With the Mac it's different. With the Mac, Apple and Tab will page you through the open applications on your desktop, not the windows. if you're in an application, such as Mail that has three messages open, you can't tab through these messages and stop at the one you want to use. You can tab into the mail application, but you then need to physically use the 'Window' menu within the application to open the windows. It's a different ethos. Not better, not worse. Just different.
  6. The keyboard is your friend. Use it rather than the mouse: You can, of course, do everything you want with the mouse. Get used to working with a single button mouse and pressing an additional key to get the 'right-click' functionality, and you'll be fine. But one of the powers of the Mac is the fact that the keyboard is much more useful.
  7. It doesn't work "out of the box" despite what they tell you. It just runs. Mac's are sold as "working out of the box with all the software you need and none that you don't". This is rubbish. Sure, they are already pre-loaded with the operating system and you can be up and running within 2 minutes. But that doesn't mean you can do everything you need. I had to download a load of other bit's and pieces (such as Quicksilver and Firefox) to get myself working efficiently on the Mac. Plus I'm still finding things that are useful to have and installing them. For example I wanted to use iChat to speak to my sister. She, of course, is still on Windows but that shouldn't be a problem, should it? Well, yes it is. iChat won't allow you to log on unless you have an AOL account or have shelled out $100 for a .Mac account. So unless either of us have AOL accounts or either of us is willing to get a .Mac account (Which she can't use because she's on windows) then we're out of luck. So I downloaded Adium, a separate messaging application. I then tried to use Google Documents, but Safari did not support web word processing and I was advised to upload Firefox (See above). Also I couldn't attach to a VGA display without an additional adaptor that I had to buy separately. My trials and tribulations with the new Mac are detailed in this post here.
As an additional point (and not to detract from anything I've already written), there are lots and lots of sites out there which will give you advice and information:

Once you've bought your new Mac here are is list of some of the key applications you may want to get for it

The key takeaway from this post should be "Don't expect your Mac to work exactly like your PC. It won't. It's better in many respects and worse in some" If you were used to skiing down a mountain with two bits of glass fibre strapped to your feet and then you changed to having both feet locked into a single snowboard you would find it different. Not better, not worse. Just different. And what's more you'll get used to it. It's exactly the same with the PC and the Mac.

I'm not going to get into some of the Holy Wars espousing the views of the Mac Zealots vs the Microsoft Zealots (But if you want an idea about what that entails just look at some of the comments posted on these entries ). This is not a post about which is better. It's not a post about whether you should go to a Mac or stay with your PC. It's just a list of those things I wish someone had told me before I moved across. It would have made my life so much simpler!

Please subscribe to my blog through RSS

Original posting at Musings Cafe



  1. "if you're in an application, such as Mail that has three messages open, you can't tab through these messages and stop at the one you want to use."

    Yes you can - hit the Apple key and the ` key (the one next to z on the keyboard) and you can tab through open windows.


  2. Graham - Thanks for your comment about the ` key. I checked this and are quite right.

    That's what I love about this medium - there's always someone who can provide help and assistance.