by Adam Pash
If Amazon's hot holiday seller list is any indication, a lot of you got new Macs this holiday season. If you switched to a Mac from a PC, you've probably noticed that there are a lot of differences between the two.
When I bought my first Mac a few short months ago, it took a while to figure out how to do all the stuff I already knew how to do on my PC. While it's my job to spend time figuring that sort of thing out, there's no need for you to waste your precious time figuring out the minutia of a new operating system. To ease this transition for all of the new Mac owners out there, I've put together a quick guide for Mac newbies making the big switch.
What follows is a round-up of everything that stuck out to me when I made the move to my first Mac. I'm still a dual-OS fellow, but after I figured out the ins and outs of my Mac, it's by far the place I find easiest to get things done. If you're delving into Macs for the first time, the following should come in handy.
Mac OS X Keyboard symbols
You're a lifehacker and you know all the good keyboard shortcuts on your Windows PC. So the first thing you'll want to do is get familiar with keyboard shortcuts on your Mac. This seems easy enough - except for the fact that Macs use a strange and foreign set of hieroglyphics for their shortcut keys. Some of the most familiar shortcuts are:
The Apple/Command key is the main modifier on your Mac. Contrary to its Windows counterpart, the Windows key, the Command key does much of the work that the Control key does on a Windows PC. So don't go hitting the Apple key expecting a system menu to pop up out of nowhere, because it ain't gonna happen. Instead, plan on using this for your most common keyboard shortcuts.
Like I said above, the Control key on the Mac isn't used in the same way as the Control key on a Windows PC. I use it most often when I'm 'right-clicking' on my Mac - often referred to as Ctrl-Click. The Ctrl key also comes in handy in a lot of other ways, like the Ctrl-Tab tab switching in Firefox.
I use the Alt/Option key most often to skip words in a document (and highlight words when used in conjunction with the Shift key) - much like the Ctrl-Arrow functions work on a PC. Like the Mac Control Shortcut, the Option key finds its way into your shortcut workflow here and there (for example, it's also very handy for accenting letters), but not as often as the Command key.
Though Command, Control, and Option are the three main modifiers/symbols you'll see on your Mac, you'll certainly stumble onto several other cryptic communiqués when you're trying to figure out a new shortcut, like the wacky Escape symbol and the big upcase Shift arrow. For a more comprehensive list of the Mac's keyboard symbols, check out this handy reference table.
Luckily, when it comes to the actual keyboard shortcuts, a lot of the shortcuts on your Mac are the same as they are on your Windows PC; generally you can just swap Command for Control for a lot of the standards. For example, the Ctrl-C/X/V for Copy/Cut/Paste become Cmd-C/X/V. Simple, right?
Instead of boring you with a long list of keyboard shortcuts like those, I'm just going to highlight some of the less obvious shortcuts.
Force Quit: When a program freezes up on your Windows PC and you want to force it closed, you hit Ctrl-Alt-Delete. On your Mac, you'll hit Cmd-Alt-Escape. This brings up the Force Quit dialog - a similar tool to the task manager for the purpose of closing unresponsive apps.
Window switching: If you're any sort of keyboard junkie, you've used Alt-Tab on your Windows PC all the time to switch between open windows. Your Mac works in a similar manner, with a small variation. Command-Tab switching between running applications, while Cmd-`/Cmd-~ (the backtick/tilde key) will switch between open windows within one running applications (i.e., Cmd-Tab will switch to Firefox, but Cmd-` will switch between open Firefox windows).
Minimize/Hide: You can minimize a window to the dock from your keyboard by pressing Cmd-M. Alternatively, you can also Hide an application by pressing Cmd-H. The difference between a Minimize and a Hide is that hiding an application hides every window of that app, and it does not push anything to the Dock. Instead, all application windows disappear from your view until you switch back to the application. In my experience, the benefit of using Hide over Minimize is that you can Cmd-Tab back to a hidden application and it will be restored to your screen; if you Minimize a window and then Cmd-Tab to the app, the window will remain minimized to the Dock.
Opening the selected file: Chances are you've opened a file or program on your Windows desktop by selecting the file and then hitting the Enter key to launch it. If you're anything like me, you do this a lot. The problem is, when you try doing the same thing on your Mac, your Mac thinks you want to rename the file instead of open it (don't ask me why). If you want to open the file, you have to hit Cmd-O (for open).
Backspace vs. Delete: On Macs, the Backspace key as you know it is called Delete. And the Delete key deletes from right to left, just like the Backspace key. If you want to delete text from left to right (à la the Windows Delete key), you have to press Function-Delete (particularly if you're on a laptop).
Finally, if you want to delete a file or folder from the comfort of your keyboard, select the file and press Cmd-Delete. It'll go straight to the Trash.
Closing windows and apps: In the Windows environment, whenever you close the last open window from a program, that program quits. Things work differently in the Mac world.
Cmd-W will close the active window (incidentally, Ctrl-W will also close most - but not all - Windows apps), however - unlike the Windows world - once you've closed the last window of an application, the app continues to run. If you actually want to quit a Mac app, you hit Cmd-Q (for Quit). When you first start working on a Mac, you'll want to keep this in mind so you don't end up wasting your system memory on several apps you're not using.
For a deeper look at Mac keyboard shortcuts, check out our Mac OS X and keyboard shortcuts tags. Specifically, you might want to check out a few secret (and not so secret) Mac OS X keyboard shortcuts.
Any Windows user worth his/her salt knows about a handy tool called the System Configuration Utility, which, among other things, lets you control which applications you want to run on startup (generally these are system tray apps). Similarly, you can use the Login Items tab of the Accounts menu in the preference pane to define which apps/files/scripts will run every time you start up your computer.
Here's a little further reading on managing your Mac's startup.
This may seem like somewhat of a no brainer for Mac veterans, but when you switch to a Mac from a PC, you may find the installation process of new applications a bit confusing at first. That's because, in general, there's absolutely nothing to it. When you download an application (generally in the form of a compressed .dmg file, which will mount as a drive when you open it), you're pretty much done with the installation process. You can run an application (marked by the .app extension) from anywhere on your computer, and there's really no installation to it. Broadly speaking, the installation of a new Mac app generally consists of moving the new application to your Applications folder. Many apps make this very simple, like the mounted Firefox .dmg above.
Unless you have your own system for arranging apps on your Mac, copying new apps to the Applications folder is a good practice. What you don't want to do is forget to move the app from the .dmg folder to your hard disk.
Hard drive structure
Another slight source of confusion you might encounter when switching to a Mac is the structure of your hard disk, namely what difference there is between the Macintosh HD and the Home folder (named with your login ID). Simply put, your Home folder (marked in Finder by the tilde [~]) is sort of like the C:\Documents and Settings\User section of your Windows PC. All of the user-specific data is kept in the Home folder, like your documents, pictures, music, and Desktop shortcuts. It's not a particularly difficult thing to understand, but it can seem a bit confusing if you're not used to it.
The last thing I'm going to touch on is the Dock - that cool little quicklaunch/taskbar rolled into one. You can launch, quit, minimize, and restore applications from the Dock. It's not strictly the same as the Windows taskbar, but in general it pulls a lot of the same duty. If you're a big keyboard shortcut user, chances are you won't use the Dock all that much, but it's a good idea to get a feel for what's going on there.
If you haven't already seen the amazing things that await Intel Mac owners in the world of side-by-side OS bliss, you need to take a look at how to run Windows and Mac apps side-by-side with Parallels and a little side-by-side Windows and Mac OS with Parallels.
If productivity is your goal, you should also be sure to check out Quicksilver. Even if you don't delve into everything QS has to offer, you'll still have one hell of an application launcher.
Finally, I should point out that this is far from the last word on the topic. I did my best to remember what stuck out the most to me when I started working with my Mac, but I'm sure there's a lot more territory that can be covered. If you've got any questions on the subject - say there's some Windows function that you can't seem to find an analog for on your Mac - let's hear it in the comments. If you're a seasoned Mac user with a few tips of your own, we'd love to hear those, too.
Big thanks to Jason Chen for holding my hand through the switch when I made it in August - answering embarrassing questions like 'How do I install this stupid application?!'
Adam Pash is an associate editor for Lifehacker whose infatuation with operating systems knows no bounds. His special feature Hack Attack appears every Tuesday on Lifehacker. Subscribe to the Hack Attack RSS feed to get new installments in your newsreader."
(Via Lifehacker: Hack Attack.)