Helpful Tips for Switching to the Mac OS

Helpful Tips for Switching to the Mac OS

Many Windows users want to move over to the Apple Mac OS but fear that the switching process may be hard.

This article is not about why you should switch to Macs, but rather, how to do it and to show you that there’s really nothing to it. I’ll guide you through the general process of switching to an Apple computer with some practical easy steps to follow.

Ask yourself why you want to switch

First, you should ask yourself why you’d like to change operating systems. If your only basis for switching operating systems is by way of second-hand experience, such as a TV commercial or advertisement, then you should definitely try a Mac firsthand to see if you like it. You should ask yourself why you want to switch.

If you’ve already tested a Mac–maybe through a friend who owns a Mac or through an Apple Store demo –it’s time to sit down and think about why your good old PC should be shut down. What benefits can a Mac bring to your workflow? Would you be ready to switch from a platform to another and learn a ton of new things?

Once you’ve found the motivation for switching, the actual process will be easier.

Choose a model

Choose a model

Now that you’ve made up your mind that you want to buy a Mac, you have to determine what model you’d like to go with.

Desktop or notebook?

First, you have to choose between a desktop computer or a notebook. In the Apple world, this means you have to choose between iMac/Mac Pro (desktops) or MacBook’s (which comes as a MacBook, MacBook Pro or MacBook Air).

You should consider your needs and what you’re going to do with your new computer to help you make the decision.

Look to friends, family, or Apple Store employees for guidance, but the best way is to just head over and, with some patience, read the descriptions of each model to help you determine which one fits you. 

Online store or retailer?

This is a personal preference. Whether you’d like to go out and buy it from a retailer, or simply wait for it to arrive at your house is up to you. The quality of the service will still be the same.

Declutter your workspace

You heard that right, you have to do some extra work to start your new computing life. Mostly, you have to trash all the files, paper and junk that are hanging around on your desk and hide those cables. Macs don’t like clutter.

Forget about your old operating system

Now, don’t get me wrong: you shouldn’t forget everything; you should just forget how you worked on Windows (or your previous operating system). The way you used to browse files in Explorer, the Start Menu and the taskbar will be different; that’s neither a good nor a bad thing, but rather, a different thing.

Be open to learning new things, new ways to use a computer, and a different way of doing certain computing tasks. However, although the Mac OS is different from other operating system interfaces, the basic computing concepts are still there.

Get some basic knowledge

This is essential: you’d better learn the basics of the Mac OS before switching from Windows to Snow Leopard. One of the best places to go to, even before you get an Apple Mac, is the Apple Support section. There is also a host of video tutorials on the site as well about Mac Basics. You can also look to YouTube for Mac OS tutorial videos.

A good practice is also purchasing magazines about Apple products and posting on Apple-related forums. In this way, you’re getting ready to the switch in the best way possible: knowing what you’re going into.

Clean up your previous PC

Before the switch, it’s always good practice to clean up your PC: delete the old stuff you don’t need anymore, run a virus/malware scan, and uninstall programs.

Why do this? Maybe you’ll still need your PC in the future, and you can think of this as a purging or spring-cleaning session: in with the new, out with the old.

This is also a preparatory step for backing up your important files.

Choose the files to backup

Obviously, you’d want to back up some files from your PC: it could be work stuff or maybe your digital music library. It’s always a good step to have a back up in case something in the importing process goes wrong.

Choose which files you want to keep: backup files you know you’ll need, everything else can be deleted.

Backup solutions

To back up your stuff, you can use an external hard disk or an online service.

For online solutions, you can use services like Dropbox or There is a good comparison table of online back up solutions on Wikipedia that you should check out if you’re going this route.

Set up the Mac OS

Set up the Mac OS

The installation process of Mac OS is very simple and straightforward: it will only require you to type your account name and password, choose a time zone, and other minor stuff. No additional knowledge required.

Play around

Play around

Here comes the fun part. Once you’ve installed Mac OS and have logged onto your new account, a new world will open to you: the system is now yours.

Now it’s time to play around; learn to launch applications in the Dock, get used to the menus in the menu bar, and assign shortcuts to Exposè and Spaces.

Choose a Web browser

Choose a Web browser

There are dozens of browsers for the Mac OS, but usually the choice is between Apple Safari and Mozilla Firefox. Safari is Apple’s default browser – it’s one of the fastest browsers available right now and has an elegant and uncluttered interface.

On the other hand, Firefox is one of the most popular browsers out there thanks to its decent speed and extensibility. I highly suggest that you use Safari (well, mostly because it’s the only one who comes preinstalled in Mac OS, so you’ll have to begin with Safari) for the first month and see if it fits to your needs.

Then, if you really can’t stand it, you can try other alternatives like Firefox or Opera.

Install some must-have apps

Install some must-have apps

Now that you know the basics, you’ll want to try some 3rd-party apps for the Mac.

Here’s a list of seven apps you should consider installing.

1Password: With 1Password, you can save logins, passwords, secure notes, bank accounts. If you need to secure your data, 1Password is the way.

Dropzone: an application that sits in your Dock waiting for you to drop stuff over it. Once you’ve dropped something onto it, it allows you to perform a large variety of actions like "Zip & Email" or "Upload to Twitpic". Dropzone greatly enhances the Mac OS Dock.

NetNewsWire: an RSS reader that integrates with Google Reader. In my opinion, this is the best available on Mac.

Tags: as the name suggests, Tags lets you tag stuff. The cool thing is, you can tag everything on your Mac, from mail messages to videos. 

Caffeine: a menu bar app that prevents your Mac from going to sleep.

Adium: a multi-protocol instant messaging app that supports MSN Messenger, Gtalk, Facebook, Twitter and much more. A must have communication tool.

Tweetie: the best Twitter client for the Mac. Supports multi-accounts, searches and has a stunning UI and smooth animations.

Consider using an alternative application launcher

Consider using an alternative application launcher

If there’s one great innovation in the Mac OS, it’s that you can launch apps and open files in a matter of 1 – 2 seconds. Thanks to the Apple’s Spotlight, Mac OS lets you search and open stuff quickly.

However, if you want to try out an alternative to Spotlight, you should go and download Quicksilver, a stylish application launcher used by thousands of Mac users. It’s extensible, stable, and lightweight.

Learn, learn, learn

Even after two or three years of usage, you’ll still have to learn many things about Mac OS. Read blogs, tutorials, download and test new apps, refine your workflow.

That’s why Mac users love their Mac: surprises never end.

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About the Author

Federico Viticci, aka "Ticci", is a 21-year-old blogger from Italy. He’s the founder and editor of, a blog about Mac and iPhone apps. He loves discovering stuff for Mac OS, Twitter, Post-Rock and drinking coffee. You can reach him on Twitter @storiesofmac.

This was published on Nov 12, 2009


Hehe… just being picky, about the part “Now it’s time to choose – desktop or notebook.” I see you included a picture of all SIX Macs, yet only named five. “Notebooks – MacBook, MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro, and Desktops – iMac or Mac Pro.” Though I thoroughly agree that the Mac Mini is nothing impressive, I think I’d still call it a desktop. :)

Don’t forget the MacMini. I’ts the most limited one but it’s stil the #1 switching machine.

spencer sy Nov 13 2009

Hi Federico

Very helpful article on Macs including to long time mac users in realizing the value of using Macs specially with graphic, web designs. I noticed with PCs, when you have many apps open it tends to slow down in speed. But with Macs, they’re pretty stable even though many apps are open.

Thanks for this nice article.


Some good tips for the newbies, i think it helps to be fluent on both a mac and a pc, as a designer 95% of my clients are pc based and want help with setting up their email etc, thats what its like to run a small business catering for other small businesses!

DlibrarieD Nov 13 2009

Key phrase for switchers is – you should just forget how you worked on Windows.
So true =)

“Many Windows users want to move over to the Apple Mac OS but fear that the switching process may be hard.”

Really? I can’t imagine anything worse! :)

Paul West Nov 13 2009

Would be nice to see an article from SR comparing the latest OS’s – Snow Leopard Vs Windows 7 vs Ubuntu 9.10 to help us make the decision “Ask yourself why you want to switch”

a_so_cal_guy Nov 13 2009

You left out a HUGE step: Evaluating the total cost of conversion.

The Mac is sexy and all but I’d have to purchase Mac-compatible versions of all the software applications I own for the PC and invest a ton of time in relearning what I do. Let’s see, that’s $400 for Office but it doesn’t come with Access so I’ll have to buy and learn Filemaker and make sure my clients convert. I wonder if there’s a cross-platform upgrade for Adobe Creative Suite…and my antivirus suite. Hm, SQL Server and IIS don’t run on the Mac OS, so I’ll have to figure that out…plus learn how to setup and administer MySQL and whatever web server the Mac comes with…I wonder if all my peripherals, printers, etc have compatible drivers for the Mac…

Okay, I’m being a little facetious but the cost (hard money and time) involved with converting their hardware, software, knowledge and support is more for most PC users than just buying the computer. Often MUCH more, especially for business users.

As a near lifetime Windows user who made the switch to Mac within the past two years, here are a couple things I’ve learned.

1. Macs are expensive. You think, oh yeah I’m paying for a better quality of computer and you are but where it surprised me was in the software. There are a number of programs that are available in Free PC versions that you’ll need to pay between $20 and $50 to get for the Mac.

2. Watch out when moving folders. When copying a folder onto another folder of the same name windows users have come to expect a merge of the contents of those two folders. OSX will overwrite one folder with another.

Derek Nov 13 2009

Well written – I can’t agree more about organizing and cleaning up your PC before making the switch makes the whole process of actually moving your data so much more smooth.

One pointer that helped me a lot when I switched (given that Finder and Explorer bear some striking resemblances) is remembering that OS X deals with each window *as a document inside the app* whilst Windows primarily looks at each window *as the app* – hence if you close the app on a Mac it doesn’t close the app whereas it does in Windows.

I think Quicksilver is overrated, personally. I gave it an honest try, but for my use Spotlight works better.

Derek Nov 13 2009

**close the window in Mac it doesn’t close the app. Sry.

Good article. I just picked up a mac mini 2 days ago (and it is pretty impressive, the higher end one at least) and will use some of these tips and tricks. I like the idea of spring cleaning your PC, definitely a good practice.

Tschai Nov 13 2009

Missing one important tip: start saving a bit more than you’re used to for a computer ;)

Great tips though…

Design Informer Nov 13 2009

Interesting article! I really like the new 27″ iMac. Can’t wait to buy it.

As far as the app launcher, Quicksilver is awesome.

Why would you need “Caffeine: a menu bar app that prevents your Mac from going to sleep.” when you can just change this setting in the Energy sys pref?

kellyp Nov 13 2009

A great source of actual information for individuals that want to accomplish things but have no idea where to start is great PodCast quality tutorials. Step by step. No ads.

I just made the switch to mac last week in the form of a Macbook, I have to say it’s a strange feeling going from being pretty savvy to having to ask someone how to make a folder on the desktop :D

The apps I’ve got the most benefit from so far have definitely been coda, CSSEdit and paparazzi and mamp (I’m looking at tweetie right now).

Overall I’m loving the experience, particularly the multi touch and gesture features of the touch pad!

Marc Shake Nov 13 2009

I think if there’s a real photoshop alternative available for Linux, the change to that OS would be great.

Andrew Vit Nov 13 2009

I dunno, I would consider some of these suggestions too strong for a new Mac user.

1Password, without considering the built-in secure Keychain features that are simple and automatic for all applications?

Quicksilver, without considering the much simpler Spotlight as a launcher?

If this is aimed at the average user, it’s a bit overkill.

Amos Vryhof Nov 14 2009

I’m not a Mac user, and probably never will be. I’m an Ubuntu linux fan… but here’s a portable tip that works for Linux and Intel Macs.

For those of you fearing the loss of your applications when moving from a PC to a Mac, Adobe Creative Suite CS3 works pretty good under the latest versions Wine. Office does too, so if you don’t want to re-buy all of your apps, Wine is a good alternative. You’ll still be working like you are on a PC, but it can be helpful if you can’t fork out enough to replace all of your apps at once…. also on the Adobe stuff… try sticking the disc in your Mac to see what happens, I know some of our DVDs at work have both versions on them.

Tyler Nov 14 2009

I only recently used a Mac yesterday for the first time really testing one out (I’ve played about before with one, but not sat down and used one) and I must say I find them horrible! I’m not sure what happens on dual-screens, but is the File etc. menu still on the primary monitor? I would hate it! And trying to use the mouse, it would open random applications, obviously I haven’t had practice but an OS you should just be able to use without learning anything (Windows you can open a application easily, Ubuntu not too difficult, OSX opens Photoshop for some unknown reason).

There are good points, I liked the file browser, and applications do seem to open quickier than they would on Windows, but overall, after justifying price tag aswell, a PC for me would just be so much better to use, and it seems that way for an expert filmmaking there too, who was used to that setup, but would still didn’t know how/where something was.

And Macs don’t crash? Our machine crashed twice, and once the file browser locked Final Cut Pro out of a folder which only a restart could solve, on Windows, it’ll crash, and recover within seconds.

Helen Nov 14 2009

First thing to be decluttered: this article. Very poor.

César Nov 14 2009

Tyler.. The test machine was a demo from the store??? o a friends computer???

It sounds that your ‘test’ computer has something wrong, like a hardware or software conflict. You should test a clean computer without any user-specific parameters or settings.

I’ve being using Macs for more than 23 years (People call me ‘macCésar’ for a reason). During the last 4 years I’ve ‘converted’ a great number of “Long time PC users”, and ALL of them tell me something like: “You were right… The Mac is easer to use and learn.” or “I will never use a PC again”.

What you need is a small guidance about the ‘logic’ of the Mac Interfase, so you can ‘translate’ the things you used to do in Windows. Remember the saying: old habits die hard. But I can tell you that it is not impossible to adapt to new things.


Korneel Nov 15 2009

Or just stick with Windows. I’m running the release candidate of Windows 7 for a while now and it’s terrific.

Great article, I’m kinda a Mac newbie my self. I just bought my very first Macbook last March.

Autonomy Nov 15 2009

I am a Mac fan and cannot express enough to my clients and colleagues the benefits of switching. Of course no system is immune from quirks but that is the life of the computer. Thanks Federico for giving me something to pass on to them. I even got my mother to switch and she loves the simplicity along with the tidy organization.

Ammon Nov 16 2009

Nice intro for the Mac newbie. What Quicksilver interface are you using?

Steve Nov 16 2009

Why I am not switching to Mac:
– too expensive; everything costs extra
– i don’t like the apple image/ don’t want to be part of that cult-like community
– a lot of promises – almost all broken
– apple fools its own customers with subtle psychological tricks
– hardware is too poor

I am a Graphic Designer and I don’t like windows, i don’t like Macs, I don’t like Linux; I’m focusing on the facts and on my mind and sanity. I sadly often get to work with macs and i don’t think to be more creative, faster, safer, productive. I’ve seen more macs crashing in the last 3 years than windows-based computers.

The new 27″ looks good, but thats it. the inside is average outdated technology, as always. Mac people often don’t know what is really new and cutting edge technology.

A Mac is just another computer.

For anyone considering switching. I’d suggest buying a Mac Mini. Relatively cheap, I ran mine using a KVM switch for the first six months while I weaned myself off the PC. I then sold the Mac Mini (for very nearly what I’d paid for it) and bought a Macbook (the PC is in a cupboard somewhere).

Dainis Graveris Nov 17 2009

beautiful article, I will switch soon to Mac, so yes, I am bookmarking this article to return here later! big thanks!

Tiana Nov 21 2009

@Marc Shake – There is GIMP, which works on Ubuntu (I believe), but nothing really comparable to Photoshop.

As for me, well, I don’t like change and I like being able to play games on my computer as well as do graphic design. I imagine if I get a laptop it’ll be Windows 7 or a Mac, though. But I don’t like change. I’m running XP and unless Windows 7 turns out incredible I’ll run it until I’m forced to upgrade. Or I’ll get a Mac. I suppose. This article didn’t really convince me into getting a Mac because I like my computers simple; none of this ‘you need all these programs to do all these things’ business. I’d be running Linux NOW if only it could run Photoshop. Pff.

I dunno. The last time I used a Mac, it made my head hurt. Maybe if I tried again…

Carlos A Zambrano Dec 02 2009

its all? learn learn lear… so poor these article.. i just switch to mac 3 months ago… and i never want to come back to window.. ok in my job i have to work in Win7 but i preffer my new MacBook Pro.. so resources men what about Exposè and Spaces these one of the most important and useful think to learn in a mac, what about the multitouch path, i worked like during 10 years in windos and really i hate when i have to come back to work in it i feel lost. Mac Rocks!!!

Darren Dec 11 2009

ive just built a wicked pc and am running snow leopard on it and its ridiculously fast.

Asus P7P55D Deluxe motherboard
Intel I7 860 2.8ghz
8Gb DDR3 1600mhz ram
Gigabyte 9800GT video card
24″ viewsonic HD widescreen
750GB Hard Drive

$2500 NZD its faster than the mac pro and about 1/3 price, i prefer the flexibility of pc components so you can build and upgrade far cheaper but prefer OSX over windows so just make the best from both, problem sovled.

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