Katherine Boehret

Opening a Window on the Mac

‘Tis almost the night before Christmas, and plenty of households are hoping Santa will slide down the chimney with a new computer in his pack. For longtime Windows users who receive new Apple (AAPL) computers, the unfamiliarity of the Mac operating system could leave them pining for their old PC.

I’ve put together a quick and dirty guide for new Apple users that explains some of the ways the Mac operating system differs from Windows. It’s true: The way you’ll quit programs is different, the keyboards are set up a little differently and even the mouse is different. But once you adjust to these changes, you’ll be fine. Here’s some help:

Key to the Keyboard

Your keyboard is missing a Backspace button, so just use the Delete button, which is set up by default to work as the Backspace button does on a Windows keyboard.

If you want to delete forward on a Mac laptop or a new iMac, hold the Function key (FN) while pressing Delete. And for keyboard shortcuts like pressing Control+C to copy or Control+V to paste on a Windows keyboard, use the Command key, which has a flower-like symbol, in place of Control. Likewise, use the Option key rather than Alt to type special characters.

If you miss Control+Alt+Delete, you can end frustratingly slow applications on the Mac by pressing Command+Option+Escape to force programs to quit.

Mousing Around

The mouse on a desktop Mac looks like it has only one button, and the trackpad on most Mac laptops has no visible buttons at all—the whole pad is a single, large button. These designs send people who usually use two-button mice into a tizzy about how to right click.

Never fear, right click is still near! On Mac laptops, right click by placing two fingers down on the trackpad (it’s easiest with your pointer and middle fingers) and click the trackpad with another finger (like your thumb). New MacBooks also will right click when you place two fingers on the trackpad and press down. Using a one-button Apple mouse, just press Control and then click to see the same right-click functionality. On the Mighty Mouse, enable right-click functionality in System Preferences, then just touch where the right-click button should be and it will work.

If you’re sick of these new shortcuts, just plug in a mouse with a real right-click button and it will likely work on the Mac.

Scroll up or down on any screen by placing two fingers anywhere on the trackpad and motioning up or down. New MacBooks have a large, glass trackpad that responds to iPhone-like multi-touch gestures like pinching to zoom in or out on a screen. Four fingers on the trackpad initiate one of three gestures: Swiping up clears everything off the screen to show the desktop; swiping left or right opens the application switcher view so you can select which application you want; swiping down launches Exposé, which shows all opened windows.

Maximize, Close, Quit

In Windows, users can hit one button in the top right corner of each window to maximize the window; Macs have a small green circle in the top left corner that makes a window larger, but not maximized, so this can be irritating.

Windows lets users close an application by hitting the “X” in the top-right corner; the Mac version of this is a small red dot in the top left, but clicking it only closes a window rather than quitting the application. To do that, you’ll need to press Command+Q or choose to quit from the application menu at the top left of the screen.

Where’s My Stuff?

Rather than opening My Computer as you would on a Windows PC, double click on the desktop icon representing your hard drive to see all files, folders, applications and software programs. Spotlight, located in the top right corner of all screens, can be used to search for anything on your Mac. The Dock, located by default at the bottom of the screen, replaces the taskbar to hold applications, folders and files.Items can be dragged into the dock for quick access. Applications are located on the left side of the Dock; Stacks are on the right and these enable instant folder access from the Dock.Two built-in Stacks come pre-loaded for Documents and Downloads.

The Apple menu, represented with a small apple icon in the top left of any screen, works like parts of the Windows Start menu.

System Preferences in the Mac Dock works much like the Control Panel on a Windows PC. Here, you can change your screensaver, desktop picture, mouse and keyboard settings, energy-saving options, parental controls and network setup.

An optional Mac version of Microsoft Office runs Word, Excel, and PowerPoint programs that are compatible with Office files from Windows PCs. Instead of Outlook, Microsoft (MSFT) includes in Mac Office a program with similar functions called Entourage. Macs come out of the box with Apple-produced programs that include Mail, Address Book and iCal. Mail works with a range of email services.

Where’s Internet Explorer?

Instead of Internet Explorer, Apple comes loaded with its own Web browser called Safari, represented in the Dock by a blue and red compass. Browsers like Mozilla’s Firefox or Google (GOOG) Chrome will work on the Mac if you want to download and install them, but Internet Explorer still runs only on Windows.

Ejecting Hurts

On a Windows PC, anything inserted into the computer—from memory cards to USB flash drives—can be pulled out almost anytime with no repercussions. On a Mac, you must first eject these items before you yank them out. Ejecting can be done by dragging the icon representing that item from the desktop into the Trash, Apple’s version of the Windows Recycling Bin, or by selecting an Eject button beside its name. If you delete something on your Mac, it’s tossed into the Trash, and an option in Trash will empty it just as you can empty the Recycling Bin in Windows. Macs offer a Secure Empty Trash command in the Finder that securely deletes files so no part of them can be recovered.

Ask at the Store

If you buy a new Mac, Apple retail stores will recycle your old computer free, and if you buy Apple’s $99-a-year One to One membership, you can take your PC into an Apple retail store to have its data transferred to the Mac or to get personal tutorials. Stores also offer free workshops. More information is at apple.com/findouthow/mac.

–Edited by Walter S. Mossberg

Write to Katherine Boehret at mossbergsolution@wsj.com

You’ve Come a Long Way, Silicon Valley

December 17, 2013 at 3:47 pm PT

Oh, the Places Your Phone Will Find

December 03, 2013 at 3:14 pm PT

Xbox One: Digital Home Base for the Living Room

November 26, 2013 at 3:25 pm PT

An iPad That’s Mini in Screen Size Only

November 19, 2013 at 3:06 pm PT

Latest Video

View all videos »

Search »

Walt Mossberg’s Product Guides

Desktop PC’s and Laptops

The Laptops to Buy

Digital Cameras

Digital Cameras Improve Zooms, HD Function