Sales of Apple’s Macintosh computers have been growing much faster than PC sales overall, with many new Mac buyers switching from years of using Windows computers. For that reason, every month I get emails from readers asking about the differences in using the Windows and Macintosh operating systems.
While the Windows and Mac user interfaces are broadly similar, they do have subtle variations in day-to-day use that require some re-education for switchers. And because there are so many fewer Mac users than Windows users, help from friends and co-workers can be harder to obtain than it is for people switching the other way, to Windows from Mac.
So, here’s a quick tip sheet explaining a few of the most common differences in the daily use of Windows XP (MSFT), from which most people would be switching, and Apple’s (AAPL) Mac OS X Leopard, which switchers would be adopting.
This column isn’t an argument for making the switch to a Mac, merely an attempt to help those who have done so, or who are considering doing so. Of course, all Macs currently sold can run Windows and Windows programs concurrently with the Mac operating system. But this guide is for folks who intend to use their Macs primarily with Leopard, not Windows.
Menu Bars: In Windows, each program typically has its own menu bar. On the Mac, there’s a single menu bar at the top of the screen that changes, depending on which program you are actively using.
Task Bar: The equivalent of the Windows XP Task Bar on the Mac is the Dock. Unlike the Task Bar, which primarily holds icons representing open windows, the Mac Dock primarily holds icons of programs you use most often. To place a program onto the Dock, you just drag its icon there. To remove it, you just drag its icon off the Dock and it disappears in a puff of animated smoke.
Start Menu: There is no Start Menu on a Mac. Its functions are divided between the Dock and the Apple menu at the upper left of the Mac screen.
Control Panel: The Mac equivalent of the Windows Control Panel is called System Preferences, and it can be launched from either the Dock or the Apple menu.
Keyboard shortcuts: Common Windows keyboard commands, such as Ctrl-S for Save, Ctrl-P for Print, and many others, are also available on the Mac. However, instead of using the Control key, they use the Mac’s Command key, which bears either a cloverlike symbol or an Apple logo. So, on the Mac, for instance, Command-S is for Save.
Quitting programs: In Windows, you can quit a program by clicking on the red “X” in a square at the upper right corner of the window you’re using. But on the Mac, if you click on the equivalent button — a red “X” in a circle in the upper left corner — you are merely closing the window, not quitting the program. To quit the program, you must either select Quit from the leftmost menu or press the Command and “Q” keys together.
Maximizing windows: When you click on the blue maximize button in Windows XP, the window you are viewing occupies the whole screen. In Leopard, the equivalent button — a green circle at the upper left — increases a small window’s size to a footprint deemed optimal for its contents, which isn’t always the whole screen.
Switching programs: One common way to switch among running programs in Windows XP is to press Alt and Tab together. This displays icons of each running program and allows you to switch among them. On a Mac, the same trick can be performed by pressing the Command and Tab keys together. The Mac also has a terrific feature called Expose, which shows every open window at once, in miniature form, so you can navigate among them. You can trigger Expose in a number of ways, but the most common is to hit either the F9 key or the dedicated Expose key, depending on your Mac model.
Right-clicking: Contrary to common belief, the Mac has a right-click menu function, just like Windows. Most desktop Macs now come with a mouse that allows right-clicking, and you can use almost any two-button USB mouse with any modern Mac. If you are using a Mac laptop, which has only one button under the track pad, you can simulate a right-click by either holding down the Control key when you click, or by placing two fingers on the track pad while clicking. The latter technique, which I favor, must first be turned on in System Preferences.
Screen: Your desktop picture and screen saver on a Mac are set via a System Preference called Desktop & Screen Saver. Screen resolution is set in the Displays System Preference. In Windows XP, all of these things are included in the Display control panel.