Intimidating people with a Macintosh

Perspective is a funny thing. Here I have happily become a heavy Mac user, thoroughly enjoying my transition from Windows and encouraging friends and family members to consider a Mac when the computer conversations come up, often saying that Macs are so easy to use. As is evidenced by the volume of blog posts I've made on the subject of Macintosh, I clearly feel that everyone is entitled to my opinion, elation and angst.

Earlier this week a good friend of mine—one that is highly technical—told me that his old Windows laptop was dying and that he needed to get a new machine soon. His wife has an iMac and he's played around on it a bit but he never gave me the impression that he was really interested in trying out a Mac as his primary machine. I of course brought up the idea that maybe he should look at a MacBook or MacBook Pro. His response was quite amusing:

"Frankly Dave I'm a bit intimidated by the Mac. I read your blog and it seems like there is so much to learn."

This from one of the smarter people I know too! But Macs are so easy, how could anyone be intimidated? I then realized that for people that are considering a switch to Mac and encounter me or my blog at this point in my adoption it can be a bit overwhelming. Having all of this transition information in one place may indeed seem like there is a lot to learn.

In the event you are considering a switch to Mac from Windows and come across my blog, don't be intimidated by what you see. I talk about everything I learn because I'm a techie geek and I enjoy sharing anything of value that I find, whether it's a feature, tip or piece of software. There are some challenges to be sure but they tend to be relatively minor for most people. 

The reason I like using Macs is that I get a nice, clean and highly useable system right out of the box. For the average person a home computer is used for e-mail, web browsing, digital picture management and home video tasks. Those chores are straightforward and simple on a Mac and can be handled right after powering it up the first time. The only additional software a non-power user has to consider is a word processing, spreadsheet and presentation package and there you can choose between Microsoft Office for Mac, iWork from Apple or go the free route with something like NeoOffice for Mac. The vast majority of users can get by on that and be perfectly happy and unintimidated.

The reason I love using Macs is that when I decided to dig a little deeper I found a tremendous amount of depth to the platform. I could extend and customize my machine in ways that made me highly productive and satiated that techie fire I have for learning and exploring.

The bottom line is that Macs are not intimidating once you get past the basics of UI navigation and controls; it takes a couple of weeks of adjustment, a little longer if you are still using Windows at the same time because they are slightly different.

As for me I'm still seeing how deep this rabbit hole goes. I'm leaving a well marked trail though so you can always catch up later if you want to. No need to feel intimidated!


Anonymous said…
I agree that there is a new way of thinking when using OS X vrs. Windows. However, if your friend is going to be getting a new computer and that new computer will have Vista installed on it. Then he needs to consider that he will have to learn a new way of thinking on the new Windows computer too.

Vista is very different from XP, it's not a cakewalk to using it from XP.

Interesting you bring up Microsoft Office, if a user is moving from an earlier version of Microsoft Office to Microsoft Office 2007 (or 2008 for the Mac), they will have to consider that they are going to be learning a new way of using Microsoft Office too. Either the Windows or OS X version of Office has changed so much from their previous versions. Mind you, Microsoft spend a long time analyzing how people used Office in Windows to come up with the Ribbon system in an attempt to improve usability of Office. I really appreciate the fact that they spent that time and effort. Wether the change is a good one or not, we'll see.

As to alternatives to Office, I really like iWork simply because it's not as bloated as Microsoft Office is. It much quicker due to the lack of bloating and it's designed more for the home user. Plus, it exports files to Office very easily.
Anonymous said…
I throughly enjoy your blog and eagerly look forward to the new ones. I am seriously thinking about getting an Apple, not sure which one will fit my needs yet. My problem is I do not really know a lot about computers, I know enough to get me in trouble, I can surf the web, check emails, use a word processor, disk clean up and de frag, some things dealing with pictures. Where would I go to learn more? Question like vocabulary and such... I have no idea what a UI is. Is there a web-site you could recommend?

Thanks for any help, can't wait for the next entry.

BH for Fla.
Anonymous said…
Hi David,

I've been following your blog for a while now because it was pretty much what I went through. My MacBook in Nov 06 was my first Mac ever (actually the first computer I ever paid for too) and while it did take a couple of weeks to adjust, it's been smooth sailing. It's just laid out so much better and with such better ideas that it's amazing no one else can get it. People seem to be ok with the idea of how Windows is because it's what they've used and a lot of the sh*t people talk about Macs is based on older Macs and systems, not the new ones. People are missing out!!!

Anyway, well done with the blog, keep it up.
David Alison said…
@BH for Fla.: There are a number of places on the web that will help you learn the various computer acronyms in common use. TUCAA is one such site.

UI stands for User Interface and is generally used to reference the control surfaces and operations of computers.

If you do decide to go the Apple route and get a Mac there are a couple of things you can do to help yourself along. If you are close to an Apple store they conduct introductory training sessions at most locations. I believe there is a fee associated with it but I think it's nominal. Another option is to look up a local Macintosh User Group and attend the next meeting. Those venues are usually full of people that enjoy sharing what they have learned with others and can present you with detailed advice that's tailored to your needs.

As for web sites I highly recommend that you visit some of the online forums like Mac-Forums. Register there and post a message when you discover something you need a little help with. The people there are tremendously helpful. You can always just ask here on my blog; it's actually how I'm learning a lot myself!

Glad you're enjoying the blog!
Unknown said…
I have friends like you mentioned that are otherwise smart, but are scared to try anything new with a computer, especially moving to anew OS. I is almost as if they have a Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome from Windows.
I agree with the reader that points out Vista may seem as drastic a change as moving to Mac for some of these people. That probably goes for Office as well, but I have not upgraded for 3 cycles, because I just don't need it. Bean is a free and lite word processor that is .doc and .docx compatible, although some advance features won't work.
Two web sites new switchersmight find useful are and
Anonymous said…
I think the best way to show people who are interested is by pointing them to the Apple site. Have them watch the video demos. They are clear, concise and friendly to watch.
Anonymous said…
@BH for Fla.

Along with what David and others have said, I recommend David Pogue's "Missing Manual" book on Mac OS X Leopard. Pogue's books are easy to understand, very informative and engagingly written. Here's the Amazon link:

Update Bot said…
For anonymous looking for newbie Mac information. . .

buying decisions:

Also, David mentioned NeoOffice, an offshoot that doesn't require X-Window. version 3 (currently beta, I believe) now runs natively. I don't know which one is "better" right now. But you have a choice

Anonymous said…
William and Vesper, I strongly disagree with your opinion switching to Vista is the same move as moving to Apple. I think of Vista as moving into the apartment next to yours, while Apple is a whole new neighbourhood. Everything works the same, but looks slightly different. The argument you'll have to learn something new again is the worst reason to switch platforms in this case.

I like David's approach: Don't push people to move. If they like what they see, they'll decide to move on their own.
Anonymous said…
@BH for Fla.

Here's a listing for 195 free Mac instructional videos. Some good ones for potential switchers, too.
Anonymous said…
well...i made the splurge and picked up a refurbished macbook pro. just received it today (father's day gift for myself) and am typing this entry on it. so far, so good. love the illuminated keyboard and the os x was a breeze to setup.

i plan on loading xp pro via boot camp, loading fusion and using this as my primary visual studio development machine. it will be great to quickly switch between the environments.

frankly, i can understand the reluctance of it folks to switch to mac. the corporate world is ran on windows and unless you're an oracle dba, you use windows for your job and most likely at home as well. for myself, i'm excited at the chance to learn a new os and hopefully that will make me a more well rounded it person.

i have a quick question for you - your blog has inspired me to start my own blog which besides documenting my mac transition, would discuss life as a fortune 100 corporate developer. would you mind if i posted a link to my blog once i get it started?
David Alison said…
@Anon: Congrats on the new MacBook Pro! I just picked mine up today as well - lots to write about shortly.

I appreciate you asking about dropping a link to your blog. Sounds like it will draw people with a similar interest so sure, drop it into a comment at the appropriate point. Just make sure you put in the HTML tag:

<a href="address">blog name</a>

That way people can actually click on it.
Vito Traino said…
Couldn't have said it better myself.

'Nough said.
Anonymous said…
From BH,

This is why I like Macs so much, everyone dealing with them seem so happy. Unlike the "others". Thanks for all the advise. There is an Apple store a few miles from my house, actually there are two, one in Naples and the next in Estero (Florida). It must be an omen, I just found out that my daughters boyfriend's roommate works at the Apple store and is in line for the genius program. Thanks again for all the help.

P.S. Happy Fathers Day to all the Dads out there and all the Moms that have to be dads also.
Chris Howard said…
Ahh! The ol' comfort zone syndrome. Better the devil you know, and all that.

I suspect that it's more a case of being too comfortable with what he knows than intimidated by the Mac.(But as others have said, Vista and MS Office 2007 are going to require relearning anyways)

So, with that in mind, if you'll excuse a free plug or two, I wrote a piece for Apple Matters last year which handles some of the learning curve difficulties. It is a table listing the variations in terms, applications (programs if you're a Windows user), equivalents (eg System Preferences on a Mac is Control Panel on Windows)

Here's the link:A Switcher’s Guide to Windows and Mac Differences and Equivalents

(I notice there are some formatting issues since the site was redesigned.)

Chris Seibold, a fellow writer on the site, produced a book Big Book of Apple Hacks, which is an excellent book for new and old Mac users.
Chris Howard said…
WIMTS: Chris Seibold, a fellow writer on the site, included that article in a book he produced, "Big Book of Apple Hacks", which is an excellent book for new and old Mac users.
Anonymous said…
Hey Dave,

Ever read or heard about Apple's One to One program? $99 for a year of one hour lessons a week. If you take advantage and go every week, that's $2 a lesson. That rocks. The "Creatives," the individuals who teach the one on one lessons are incredible. This is a great way to learn a Mac and take full advantage of the great machines they are. Especially if you've never operated the system before. Also, you responded to my heads up about the free iPod Touch...but anons aren't always "man". ;)

-Female Anon Mac Fan
David Alison said…
@Female Anon Mac Fan: I did not know that the one-on-one training was so inexpensive. That's excellent. Maybe I'll reconsider getting my parents that Mac after all. Need to see if there is an Apple store close to them.

I did take advantage of that iPod offer - you mentioned since my wife is a teacher. Thanks again! As for the "man" reference, please don't feel slighted. Anonymity has a cost ;-). If it's any consolation I grew up in the Southern California surf culture of the 70s and call many people "man" or "dude" independent of gender.
Anonymous said…
Actually, one of the biggest 'issues' I had switching was that I treated it like Windows and moved into 'problem solving mode' whenever I was trying to figure how to do something.

After beating my head against a wall for a while, Id go and google it. And the solution would usually be so simple and obvious that I had missed it because I was trying to over analyse it and approach it from a windows techie methodology.

I think one of the silliest ones was after plugging in a printer. It was like 'ok, now how do I make this thing get recognised' and where are all the drivers I'll need to install etc'. What I should have done is tried printing :)

The ones that usually catch windows refugees are things like s/w installs (it drags the file from the mounted DMG and it puts it in the Applications folder) and de-installs (it drags the application from the Applications folder and it puts it in the Trash).

Cut 'n Paste for files in Explorer is something I still miss, though I now find myself opening two Explorer windows at Work :)

The cursor keys for navigation are a little different too. Home & End scroll to the top / bottom of the doc (but dont move the cursor).

Use the Cmd key in combination with the direction keys to actually move the cursor. Use Cmd - left arrow to go to start of line / cmd - right arrow to go to end of line.

Good luck and have fun. My better-half went from being a computer hater, to someone pounding out photo books, writing a blog, and posting edited DVD's from the video camera to relations all over the world (all with VERY little help from me I might add) and who is now asking when we are going to buy a Macbook so we can get the G5 cheesegrater and 19" CRT out of the lounge :)
Anonymous said…
To anonymous that suggested Vista was moving to the apartment next to me...

The apartment maybe next door, but I guarantee that they will never be able to figure out how to lock the doors and windows, use the bathroom, etc...

Vista is a Windows OS, but Microsoft moved pretty much every option around and trying to find an option to set it or disable it is going to be very difficult.

So the user will have to do a lot of learning and searching for items to change in Vista. When switching to OS X, the same thing is true. The only main difference here is that the user switching will have to get used to the "few" more differences that there are between Windows and OS X.

Trust me, there are not that many differences between Windows and OS X, and the differences are way easier to deal with on the OS X side than on the Windows side. Installing software, uninstalling software, lack of Registry in OS X, etc...
Anonymous said…
Vesper, thanks for replying. I do still disagree with you. Most users are not power users, and those have never heard about a registry, and the basic changes (in vista) seem obvious. Anyone confused the Start Button is not labeled "Start" any more? ;) Or the example of installing software you have brought up: In Vista the only thing that changed is that you might have to click UAC to run in admin mode. Switching to a mac, you'll have to learn the different concept of a DMG.

I'm not saying switching to OSX is impossible. I just strongly disagree with people bringing up the "you'd have to adapt to Vista anyways" argument. I've heard the same thing from linux users, would you agree with them as well? Acknowledge it's a larger step and focus on explaining why you think its worth it.
Anonymous said…
If the Linux distro was as hidden as Mac OS X's Unix, then I would have to take a serious look before stating anything.

I don't care what kind of user the user of Vista/OS X is, they are going to have to go into preferences/control panel to make changes. If they were using WinXP before, "upgrading" to Vista will be just as confusing as switching to OS X. Just look at Win 98, 2000 and XP for examples of how different each version is when it comes to locating settings. At least with XP, you can change the Control Panel to the older way of displaying control panel items so that it's a little easier to find setting items.

The nice thing about OS X and Maybe Vista is that you can use a search box to locate settings that would otherwise be very difficult to find.

I guess we are going to have to agree to disagree on this one. I will never be convinced that Vista is the same as XP when it comes to it's operation and UAC dialogs are not the only thing that users of Vista will have to get familiar with.

So, to me, if someone is thinking about getting a new computer system, I will suggest to them to take a peek at an iMac before making a final decision.

Shoot, just the fact that a new Mac OS X user can schedule an appointment with an Apple Genius at their stores is a major plus compared to Microsoft and their tech support lines (that will cost you over $90 after the first software incident).

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