Switching to Mac takes the right mindset

Contrary to what some of my friends now think, I don't actually recommend that everyone run out and get a Mac. Even though I've personally been delighted by my Mac experience I know there are others that simply cannot move to a Mac from Windows. If people aren't willing to make changes to the way they do things chances are their switch will fail and you will likely hear no end of grief from the person that's getting the machine based on your recommendation.

Changing an operating system is a fairly jarring event for most people because the tools they are used to working with are often in different places. Nothing seems "natural".

I equate it to driving one of the cars that my brother's company imports from Japan. They are right hand drive high performance cars, yet I am able to operate them fairly well by simply jumping in and driving off. Acceleration, braking and steering work the same as any other car I've driven so that's not a problem. Operating the gear shift on a manual right hand drive car is a little odd because I have to think about it - usually my right hand operates the gear shifter, not the left. Then there are the little details that always throw me off, like trying to make a lane change and turning on the windshield wipers since those controls are on opposite sides of the steering wheel from their American counterparts. My muscle memory is not trained well for it.

In much the same way, OS X and Windows are similar at fundamental levels but different on the surface. Here are a couple of the key differences that I've found between Macs and Windows that trip users up and frustrate them:

Keyboard Shortcuts in Text
Command vs Control is the biggest; Control-C is copy in Windows, Command-C is copy in OS X. It takes a little getting used to. More difficult to adjust to is Option-Right arrow in OS X to move a word to the right; it's Control-Right in Windows. Since the Option/Alt key is sandwiched between the Control and Command keys I have a difficult time getting to it even now, three months in. 

I think this is in part because the key in that location on a Windows keyboard is the Start key, the worst key in Windows. Why is it the worst? Try playing a full screen, high speed combat game in Windows and then accidentally hit the Start key. The application minimizes (which is usually a disaster), the game is running in the background and you're watching your display adaptor try to figure out what to do as it switches graphics modes. 

So here I am in BF2, piloting a Blackhawk full of my buddies - we're ripping through a town at building level when I accidentally hit the dreaded key, the screen flickers and I'm staring at my Start menu. I can hear my buddies online in the background yelling out "WTF?!?" and "DUDE! WHERE ARE YOU GOING?!?" When I am finally able to get back into the game we are inevitably flying into the side of a building or mountain. Everyone dies. Yay Start Key.

Needless to say, experiences like that have made my finger's muscle memory avoid the Start key region like an iPhone wants to avoid a Blendtec blender. I don't want to go anywhere near it. I think that's part of the reason I can't seem to hit that key on my Mac's keyboard.

There are two other keys that I've found difficult in the transition: Home and End. In Windows Home takes you to the beginning of the current line; in OS X that key scrolls the current window to the top. To get to the beginning of the current line in OS X I hit Command-Left Arrow. I'm still tripping up on that.

A Different Approach to Menus
Another area that Windows users will struggle with is the way the Macintosh handles menus. In Windows each application gets it's own menu and it is physically attached to the window itself. On OS X there is only one menu and it is parked at the top of the screen; it changes as you change the focus of applications. 

While this may seem like a trivial difference it starts to show up as an issue for me because I have dual monitors. If I have an application window parked in the right monitor I need to move the mouse cursor all the way over to the left monitor in order to access any menu options for it. Not everyone will be impacted by this because I think having multiple monitors is a bit rare, especially for recent switchers.

That's All?
These are just two quick areas; in the past I've touched on others as well. There are also differences in window resizing, drag and drop support, quitting applications, file management (don't assume that dragging folders in OS X has the same effect it has in Windows - it does not), installing and uninstalling applications, etc., etc. On top of this are different applications, peripheral support, etc. Thanks to Eric's comment yesterday I stumbled across this site: Mac vs Windows. Lots of information in there on the differences and it appears pretty objective.

These changes all translate into challenges for new users. I believe that my switch to Mac has been successful in no small part to the attitude I had when approaching it. I was excited about trying out something new because as I mentioned in yesterday's post, I was pretty bored with Windows. I was ready for something new and fresh and the Macintosh provided that for me.

For this reason I've decided to stop pushing a Mac on my wife. It's going to be a lot easier for her to make the transition if she really wants one. Something tells me that the next time her machine slows to a crawl or gets infected by a virus she will have a boost in her motivation. 

In the meantime I'm going to enjoy using my Macs.


Anonymous said...


You've provided thoughtful advice. I have a little suggestion for the menu bar and two monitors. Deja menu was created to address that issue. It is a contextual menu which replicates the menu bar menus with a right click in your second monitor.

David Alison said...

@Anon: Outstanding! What a great little tip. I just installed it and mapped the activation to one of the lesser used buttons on my Logitech mouse (Cruise Up button). Now I can get to the menu even if I'm all the way down in the lower right corner of my second monitor. Here is a direct link to DejaMenu.

N45800 said...

Not to make things more confusing, but OSX apps also support many emacs keybindings. ctrl+a to go to the beginning of a line, ctrl+e to go to the end of a line, etc. Here are a list of some..

David Alison said...

@n45800: That is a really helpful list - thanks. The Control-Left and Right arrow will be my new replacements for Home and End. Thanks!

VesperDEM said...

DejaMenu is awesome. I've been using OS X for nearly 2 years now and I still find great new programs like DejaMenu thanks to the great Macintosh community here on the Web.

Also, Thanks n45800 for the keyboard key bindings webpage. I have been fighting with the same issues as David here with text cursor movement. I'm so used to Windows and how it handles text cursor movement that I'm still fighting trying to learn the Mac way. That page will help a lot.

Bob D said...

Your article is quite accurate as far as it goes. However, XP users moving to their next machine are going to face significant changes whatever they move to, whether it is Vista, OS X, Linux, whatever. I actually think that the transition to Leopard is easier than the transition to Vista (plus you can always run XP, at least if you buy a copy before Microsoft stops selling them)

Grenamier said...

I've actually stopped recommending Macs to people. I love my Mac, but like you I've come to realize that you can't just drop people into it and expect them to love it right away. They have to want to be Mac users. These days I make it known that I'm happy to support anyone I know who is getting a Mac, but I won't suggest it to anyone who's not willing to learn a different way of doing things.

David Alison said...

@Bob D: I don't think Vista is that much of a stretch for most people - I've installed and worked with it pretty heavily and while unimpressed overall with the changes, normal day to day activities work pretty much the same as they did in XP. That said, I'm running XP in my VM, not Vista. At least until I find a permanent replacement for Visual Studio.

@Grenamier: It is hard not to get excited about something and not share it with others. It's funny when you think about it; Mac users are generally accused of being smug. Maybe that perception of smugness comes from resorting to people having to say "I love my Mac and it really just works", which is likely less abrasive than "You should get a Mac, it's so much better than Windows".

Cyclist At Large said...

That DejaMenu thing is interesting, in no small part because that's sort of how NeXTStep did its menus. I wonder how that got left behind in OS X.

GrlGeek said...

I've been following your blog with interest, not only because I was your customer at WebSurveyor but also because I recently made the same switch. I am an IT director in a large school district and just needed something on my desk that worked, that I didn't have to fiddle with daily and that - as an added bonus was enjoyable to use. I was a Mac user years ago, switched to Windows (NT, 2000, XP) and am back again. I started with a Macbook Pro at home, but recently made the leap to a Mac Pro on my desk at work. The first few weeks, I felt like a student who was dropped in the middle of France after only a semester of high school French, I could ask for the bathroom or the bus but that was about it.
However, after a few weeks I’m so glad I took the leap. I have 3 monitors connected to my Mac Pro, and have found Mac replacements for all of my programs except one – Microsoft OneNote. (I’m still trying a few – Curio is good, superior in many ways though lacking some of the features I want.)
Since I made the switch, I have 4 more staff members in my department who have done the same. Since we support both platforms we are saving on equipment costs using VMWare Fusion on our Macs we can each use one system instead of two. Anyway, please continue with the great posts like this one – I’ll continue to share your blog with those who are taking the leap.

David Alison said...

@GrlGeek: First off, thanks for being a WebSurveyor customer! I really did love that company and moving on was tough, though I'm excited about getting the next venture moving. Hoping to launch at the end of the summer.

I hear you on OneNote; I used it pretty heavily too. You may want to check out Journler. It's not as flexible as OneNote but it supports the various media types and allows you to do some creative tagging in it. I was going to write up a post on it at some point in the near future.

JT said...

@grlgeek & David - give Evernote a shot. It's not OneNote, but it has some interesting features.

David Alison said...

@JT: Nice find on Evernote. Very different than OneNote but very cool!

Eric said...

So one thing I was wondering is what do you play BF2 on now? I am reading through you blog starting at the beginning so you might have posted about it and I have not come across it yet.


David Alison said...

@Eric: I haven't really played BF2—or any of my older FPS games—in over a year. That is the one shortcoming of Macs; you can't just fire up a PC game without rebooting. I've tried playing games under VMware Fusion and with Wine based derivatives and they are really not all that playable. I did have some luck with Team Fortress using Crossover. Unfortunately Crossover doesn't support the game I'd like to be playing right now: Darkest Hour.

Taek Woon said...

Great analogy! Whenever I find my friends asking me about mac, or comparison with windows machine, I had hard times to show that clearly. What I've done was just saying series of some specific issues different from each other, but you gave me a big shot for that.

Thanks david.

jr said...

I'm thinking about shifting to mac. Not because I'm fed up with windows or anything but because I think it might be fun to try something new. Also my fiancée is a mac-nut and is insisting that my next laptop should be a mac. Do you think I should go for it? I just use the PC to write, watch movies once in a while, listen to music and surf the net.

David Alison said...

@jr: The fun factor was a big part of why I initially enjoyed my switch to Mac. After 18 years of Windows variations it just felt a little stale (and Vista was the latest version when I did switch). As I say in this blog post, so much of it is attitude.

For the basic kinds of things you want to do virtually any computer will work. Good luck jr—having a fiancée that's a Mac nut will definitely help.