There are times in life when you find yourself having to use something other than your first choice out of necessity. This is true for computer operating systems too.
Most Windows users will probably come into contact with Mac OS X at some point in their lives, and most of them will never have used it before. Luckily we’ve put together a quick start guide for any Windows users daunted by the sight of an Apple operating system.
Mac OS X doesn’t have a Start menu (or screen), but instead uses a dock that by default runs along the bottom edge of the screen. Applications are found on the left side, folders and minimised windows appear on the right. Applications that are already running have a dot or line next to them, as you can see in the screenshot below.
At the top of the screen is the menu bar, and this is where you will always find the familiar File, Edit, View options for any currently active application. Most of the functions of the Windows system tray can be found in the top-right corner of the menu bar, such as the battery meter, clock and Wi-Fi toggles.
Search For Everything
Mac OS X has an excellent search engine in the top-right corner of the screen called Spotlight, so if you’re ever wondering where something is then all you need to do is search for it. At any point, hit command+spacebar to reveal Spotlight or click the magnifying glass icon in the corner. Type whatever it is you’re looking for – an application, document name, system setting and so on – and let OS X do the work for you.
Once you’ve found what you’re looking for, you can reveal its location in Finder by holding the command key while selecting it.
Keyboard & Mouse
The command key now performs much of the tasks the Windows key did on Microsoft keyboards, option is equivalent to Alt and there’s no backspace key – just a delete. If you’re used to a non-US keyboard, you’ll have to adjust to the @ symbol now being above the number 2. Instead of using alt+tab to cycle applications, Mac OS X uses command+tab.
You can still right-click on a Mac, and if you’re using a mouse that’s exactly where you’ll find it. Those of you on a laptop or Magic Trackpad can use a two-finger click (ensure two fingers are making contact and click with one) or hold the controlkeyboard button while clicking.
If you’re using touch-based input, there are a number of gestures to master – like scrolling using a two-finger swipe, or revealing installed applications by pinching with four fingers. Find the full list under Trackpad settings (search for it).
Finder, Files & USB Drives
Finder is the Mac equivalent of Windows Explorer, and you can access it by clicking the smiley-face icon to the very left of the dock. On a Mac, there’s no way to “cut” a file by default – you have to copy it first (command+c) then hold the option key while pasting (command+option+v) to turn “copy” into “move”. If you want to rename a file or folder, first select it then hit the return key.
There are links along the left-hand Finder sidebar to quickly access common locations like Documents or Downloads, and if you scroll to the bottom you will find any connected USB flash media, external, network and optical drives too. If you have any problems writing to USB drive, it may be formatted to NTFS whichyour Mac is unable to write to by default.
Applications & Settings
The three buttons in the top left are close (red), minimise (yellow) and expand (green). The green one is used to fit the window to the content, rather than maximise the entire window as it does on Windows. Note that when you close a window on Mac OS X using the red button, the application is very likely still open – denoted by a small light dot or line in the dock.
To quit an application, right-click (or control-click) its icon in the dock and select quit. Holding the option key will allow you to Force Quit an unresponsive application, or you can launch Activity Monitor (search for it). This is the Mac OS X equivalent of Task Manager and allows you to isolate and kill nuisance processes.
If you need to configure network access, access system settings or simply change your wallpaper you’ll find everything under System Preferences (via the dock or Spotlight).
How Do I Turn It Off?
You’ll find options for shutting down, restarting and logging out of Mac OS X under the Apple logo in the top-left corner.
If you’d like to know more about transitioning from Windows to OS X, download our convert’s guide to OS X. You can also download our Mac OS X cheat sheet for instant keyboard shortcut wisdom.