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Take Control of Switching to the Mac

Mac Switcher?

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Mar 13, 2008
The Author

Scott Knaster has been writing about Macs for as long as there have been Macs. Scott’s Mac programming books were required reading for Mac developers for more than a decade. A regular speaker at Mac industry conferences, Scott writes books for non-programmers too, including Hacking Mac OS X Tiger and Mac Toys (with John Rizzo). Scott has every issue of MAD magazine, which explains a lot about him.

Take Control of Switching to the Mac

Switching to the Mac is easier than ever with our real-world advice!

Switching to the Mac is a big step, and if you’re helping someone make the leap, Scott Knaster is here to help with concise, real-world guidance. Scott has worked at Apple and Microsoft, so he has the chops necessary to explain the Mac to someone who has known only Windows. He starts by helping the potential Mac user feel good about switching while acknowledging that it’s a big move. Then he gets into the nitty-gritty: how to set up a Mac, how the Mac interface compares with Windows, which Mac applications replace common Windows programs, and how to move data to the Mac, including documents, music, an iTunes library, email messages, address books, and Web bookmarks. Scott next helps a switcher translate Windows know-how to Mac proficiency, covering how to set up users, work in Finder windows, search with Spotlight, manage applications and windows, use the network, print, download software updates, and more, all anchored by ten essential Mac tips. Finally, Scott has some quick advice for sharing documents with Windows users and running the occasional Windows application.

Compatibility: Covers XP and Vista; Tiger and Leopard.

More Info

Read this book to learn the answers to questions such as:

  • What are the best features of the Mac for a Windows user?
  • How do I move my documents, email, and Web bookmarks to the Mac?
  • How do I move all my music, including my iTunes library, to a new Mac?
  • How do I update my Mac’s system software?
  • How do I find files on my Mac?
  • What keyboard shortcuts does the Mac use, and how can I customize them?
  • Are there any gotchas when sharing files between Mac and Windows?
  • My Mac software has locked up. What should I do?
Why Switch?

Time for an excerpt! The text below is excerpted from “Take Control of Switching to the Mac.” Read it to get inspired about switching and to get a better feel for Scott’s writing style.

Get Ready to Switch

OK! You’ve decided to take the plunge: you’re switching to the Mac. Although you might think you’re a Mac island in a vast sea of Windows, you’re far from alone. Apple is on a roll, and millions of people are buying Macs, many of them for the first time.

When PCs seem to be everywhere, why should you be using a Mac? Let’s take a look.

What’s Cool about the Mac

People have various reasons for buying and using Macintosh computers. Here are some common ones:

  • Macs are stable. In general, fewer weird and unreliable things happen when you’re using a Mac. Programs don’t crash or freeze as often. Inexplicable problems, such as no sound from the computer or the mouse not working, are almost unknown. And although applications occasionally misbehave, full system crashes (the equivalent of the dreaded Blue Screen of Death in Windows) are rare.
  • Mac users aren’t plagued by viruses. If you’re tired of cleaning viruses off your computer—and according to recent press reports, some people are actually choosing to get rid of their PCs rather than deal with virus infections—you’re bound to love having a Mac. You won’t find viruses, worms, Trojan horses, spyware, or other ill-meaning software ruining your computing experience in Mac OS X.
  • Almost everything is easier on a Mac. Ease of use is a cornerstone of Macintosh hardware and software design. Macs come with lots of friendly software included, and more is available from Apple and other companies. Because Mac users tend to expect higher-quality software, other companies have to make sure their Mac software is good, too.
  • Apple provides excellent technical support. When something does go wrong, or when you need a little help, Apple offers assistance through its Web site, retail stores, and phone centers. According to a recent survey in PC Magazine—not exactly a bastion of Mac-positive press—Apple was ranked first among computer makers in both technical support and reliability (second place was “self-built computers”). The PC Magazine article included this quote: “What’s left to say? If you buy a Mac, not only will you in all likelihood love it, but you’re also going to recommend it to your friends while enjoying all the time you can spend not fixing it.”
  • Little things on the Mac seem to work better. Waking your Mac from sleep (system standby) will make you smile: the process is almost instantaneous. Joining a wireless network usually happens automatically. The Mac is filled with small touches that make your computing experience more enjoyable.
  • Mac software has terrific graphics and high production values. Apple sweats the details, and it shows. Macs are fun to use, which makes it more pleasant (or perhaps tolerable) when you have to work late on those spreadsheets; as famed computer researcher Alan Kay has said, “Things that are fun are intrinsically worth doing.” Apple also does a great job hiding the messy behind-the-scenes stuff that most users don’t want or need to see. In contrast, Windows users must sometimes work through bits of older software, such as DOS-style pathnames, that peek out from the corners of the system.
  • Now is a good time to switch. Reviewers and regular folks have high praise for the latest version of the Mac’s operating system, Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. Apple produces beautiful, innovative hardware with plenty of features. The company is fiscally healthier than ever (due in no small part to its success with digital music), sparing us from those “Apple is going out of business” rumors that used to pop up every year or so. And finding help for your Mac questions is easier than ever, thanks to the vast information sources on the Internet as well as Apple’s large network of company-owned retail stores (each of which includes a support and repair department named, with typical Apple verve and humility, the Genius Bar).

What’s Not So Cool (and What to Do about It)

After reading the previous section, you might wonder why everyone on the planet doesn’t immediately pitch their Windows computers out the, er, window and trade them in for Macs. As wonderful as the Macintosh world sounds, there is some pain attached to making the Mac switch. And, although you’ll find Mac fans who disagree, Macintosh computers are not perfect, or even clearly superior to Windows in every last detail. Here are a few of the problems you’re likely to encounter:

  • Switching is work. Even if your switch to the Mac improves your life and work, the act of switching itself will have its difficult moments. When you use Windows, you’re exercising muscle memory and neural paths so familiar that you might not even realize you’re using them. As you make the transition, you’ll have to slow down and think about things that have heretofore been automatic. Changes in terminology will annoy you. You’ll be troubled by screen elements that look the same but act slightly differently, or that have a completely different appearance but perform familiar functions. One of the chief jobs of this book is to help you with these issues—but they’ll still bug you, especially during the early stages of your switch.
  • In a Windows world, Macs can seem harder to use. Most people who have used both systems agree that Macs are easier to use than Windows PCs. But there are many, many more PCs in the world than there are Macs. So when something goes wrong with your Windows PC, there are usually more resources around to help you: more neighbors, more family computer gurus, more material online, more technical support at the office. This produces a paradoxical network effect: although Macs are generally easier than PCs, they can actually become more troublesome than PCs when you need help.
  • Apple helps you overcome this problem by offering one-stop shopping through its online and physical stores. Like most companies, Apple provides support via the Web. But Apple goes far beyond most others with its Apple Stores. Apple has more than 200 retail stores around the world, and more opening every month. Each store includes a Genius Bar, where you can obtain excellent service and support for your Mac, as I mentioned earlier.
  • Employers provide varying degrees of help for Macintosh users. If your IT department officially supports Macs, be sure to take advantage of any services offered there. At most companies, Mac users are in the minority, so it’s a good idea to join (or form) a community, such as a mailing list or a user group (see the list at, that provides mutual aid. Of course, Macs typically need less technical support than Windows, so having fewer support resources becomes less of an issue.
  • Connecting to Windows networks can be tricky. Apple spends a lot of time and effort giving its computers the ability to play nice with Windows. This includes such features as mounting Windows shares (network volumes), connecting to printers on Windows networks, and working with Windows-formatted disks. But sometimes it seems like Apple’s heart isn’t in it. Mac support for working with Windows computers and networks is often buggy and incomplete. And who can blame Apple? No doubt it’s a lot more interesting to create the latest visually stunning Mac OS X feature than to fix a bug in how Macs share files with PCs. But for those of us who need that Windows support, it’s a pain.
  • Some applications don’t have Mac versions. Because there are so many more PCs than Macs, some companies decide to produce software only for Windows. Others have both Mac and Windows versions but let the Mac versions trail behind in features.
  • You can find at least one Mac OS X application in every major category. Because Mac users have high standards, these programs are often excellent. But in many categories PC users have more options to choose from. Specialized programs can present bigger problems: some niche software is simply not available on the Mac.
  • If you rely on one of these unavailable programs, you have several options. You can sometimes find another program that’s similar to yours and adapt your work to use it. A few programs provide Web interfaces that don’t care whether you’re using a Mac or Windows. But in some cases you might have to continue using specialized Windows applications. If you find yourself in that situation, you always have the option of running Windows on your Mac. I cover this topic in more detail in Choose Mac Applications and Run Windows on Your Mac.
  • A Mac is a computer, and computers can be balky. If you’re used to Windows, you’ll experience fewer instances of odd and annoying behavior on your Mac—but you’ll still see it sometimes, unfortunately. This includes applications growing sluggish, freezing, or quitting unexpectedly, features working strangely, and network troubles. Although you can’t eliminate these problems, you can learn how to avoid them, and to recover from them gracefully when they do happen. I cover this in Glitches and Gotchas: Troubleshooting.
  • Something else to remember is that although Macs are essentially virus-free as of this writing, this may not be the case forever. In fact, from time to time, programmers have announced the creation of a Mac virus or worm as a proof-of-concept demonstration, and a few Mac viruses have even been found “in the wild.” But Mac users today simply aren’t affected by viruses.
  • Why haven’t Macs been hit by viruses, worms, and the like? The answer to that question is hotly debated. The factors usually cited include the following, each of which I believe plays a part in the lack of Mac viruses, but nobody really knows.
    • Mac OS X is built on UNIX, a mature and solid operating system.
    • Mac OS X as installed is configured to prevent intrusions from bad things on the Internet.
    • Macs are so few in number compared to Windows computers that nobody bothers to attack them
    • Virus writers hate Windows, but they leave Macs alone.
  1. Update to Take Control of Switching to the Mac 1.5

    Take Control of Switching to the Mac version 1.5 covers Vista, Leopard, and more, while retaining information about Windows XP and Tiger. Look in the Read Me First section for a more detailed list of what’s new, complete with clickable links and page references for some of the new content.

    Posted by Adam Engst (Permalink)