A Switcher’s Guide to Windows and Mac Differences and Equivalents

by Chris Howard Mar 13, 2007

So, you’ve switched to Mac. Welcome! If you still feel like you’re stumbling around in the dark, hopefully the following article will turn a few lights on. Or maybe you’re thinking about switching but still a little worried about how compatible you will be with Mac OS X. Again, this article should hold your hand as you cross over.

Although switching to Mac from Windows is a relatively simple process, you still need to re-educate yourself a little on the Mac’s way of doing things and its terminology. Learn the local lingo, you might say. Just like if you’re a foreigner in a country, it is important to learn a few of the basic cultural and language differences. For example, if you’re in the U.S., you might get away with giving your girlfriend a pat on the fanny when out in public; however, try that in Australia and you’ll probably find yourself crumpled on the ground, clutching your groin, speaking (moaning actually) in a high-pitched voice and wondering if you’ll still be able to father children.

Recently, having undertaken study where the computers are all Macs, I’ve encountered many students with no Mac experience and who have struggled at times with the differences. It’s been interesting listening to how they express their frustration at not knowing how to do the simplest little things on the Mac—and what they’ve said hasn’t been flattering to the Mac.

So for them, and every other switcher, this article provides a list of the equivalent terminology, way of doing things on a Mac, and applications to use. It is by no means complete or comprehensive. It also assumes Windows up to XP, as at the moment, that is the version the majority of switchers would be familiar with. By tabling it in a comparative list, it should be easier for you to relate the relevant methods between systems.

Modifier key definitions
On a standard QWERTY keyboard with a U.S. layout, the modifier keys on a Mac are:
- The Command key is the one at either end of the spacebar. In shorthand form, the Command key is represented by the symbol ⌘. It is often also called the Apple key as it also has the Apple logo on it.
- The Option key is the next key out from the Command key. The Option key is represented by the ⌥ symbol.
- The Control key is the third key out from the spacebar and is represented by the ⌃ symbol.

On other keyboard layouts and laptop keyboards, these keys will be laid out differently.

On Windows On Mac
Blue Screen of Death (less common on Windows since XP) Kernel Panic (Very rare on Macs)
Command Prompt Terminal
Control Panel System Preferences
Directory Folder
Explorer Finder
My Computer Finder
Options Preferences
Program Application
Recycle Bin Trash
Right click menu Context menu
Taskbar Dock
Windows Update Sofware Update

This list shows the equivalent methods of doing things on Mac and Windows. Where more than one way is listed, it is separated by a semi-colon and on a new line. Not all methods are shown, only those where the method differs. For instance, just like Windows, you can close a window via the File menu, or copy, cut, and paste via the Edit menu.

Function On Windows On Mac
Abort an application Ctrl-Alt-Del and select application and click “End Task” Option-Command-Esc then select and click “Force Quit”
Applets Bottom right of Taskbar Top right of menu bar
Applications: Accessing running applications Alt-tab;
Click on program’s name in the Taskbar
Click on the application’s icon in the Dock. Running applications are indicated by a black triangle below the application’s Dock icon.
Applications: Finding and launching Start Menu Dock;
Applications folder
Basic troubleshooting of application crashes. (After performing each of these, test if the problem is solved.) Restart application;
Reinstall troublesome program
Restart application;
Delete troublesome application’s preference file (found in Library/Preferences folder of your User folder and often named something like com.vendorsname.applicationnme.plist.);
Repair disk permissions using the Disk Utility in the Applications/Utilities folder (requires administrator access)
Close a window Close button (top right of window) Close button (top left of window). Note: If the Close button displays a grey dot in the middle of it, the document in the window is unsaved.
Context menus Right mouse click Control-left mouse click on single button mice, otherwise, also right mouse click
Copy Control-C Command-C
Cut Control-X Command-X
Drive names C:, D:, E: etc OS X uses the name given to the disk (the label in Windows) to reference disks. eg “iMac Hard Disk”
Ejecting CDs and DVDs Push eject button on disk drive;
Right click on disk and select “Eject”
In a Finder window, click eject symbol to right of disk
Drag and drop the disk’s icon on to the Trash icon (it will turn into an Eject icon);
Push the Eject key (⏏ ) on the keyboard.
Note: a disk in use will not be able to be ejected.
File navigation and management Windows Explorer;
My Computer
Files: Location of personal files My Documents Documents
Help F1 Command-?
Installing programs Run install program (if not automatically run) Some applications have an installer (usually indicated by a pkg or mpkg suffix). Double click to install. Others you simply drag and drop to the Applications folder.
Maximize a window Maximize button (top right of window) Zoom button (green button in top left of window). Note: Zoom is not functionally equivalent of Maximize, but is the closest thing to it on Macs. Zoom only enlarges the window enough to display the full width of the document within it.
Menu bar: Accessing by keystroke Alt key Control-F2
Menu bar: Location of an application’s menu bar Top of its window Top of screen
Minimize a window Minimize button (top right of window) Minimize button (orange button in top left of window).
Monitoring system performance Task Manager Activity Monitor (found in the Applications/Utilities folder
Move cursor one word right Control-Right arrow (cursor) key Option-Right arrow (cursor) key
Move cursor one word left Control-Left arrow (cursor) key Option-Left arrow (cursor) key
Move cursor to beginning of the line Home key Control-Left arrow (cursor) key
Move cursor to end of the line End key Control-Right arrow (cursor) key
Paste Control-V Command-V
Properties: Getting information about an item Properties menu item. Usually in context menu Get Info. Usually in either context menu or File menu
Options and settings: Location in menus Usually under the Tools menu item Usually under the application’s named menu item
Removing media Right click on device and select “Eject”;
Open “Safely Remove Hardware” from Task Bar and Stop device to remove
In a Finder window, click eject symbol to right of the device;
Drag and drop the device’s icon onto the Trash icon (it will turn into an Eject icon);
Note: a device in use will not be able to be ejected.
Resize a window Click and drag any edge Click and drag bottom right corner
Run an applications Locate via the Start menu If not already in the Dock, applications are stored in the Applications folder and its sub-folders and can be run directly from there. They can be kept permanently in the Dock by right clicking on their Dock icon and selecting “Keep in Dock”.
Screen brightness Usually on the monitor F14 to decrease;
F15 to increase
Screen capture PrtScn to capture full screen to clipboard;
Alt-PrtScrn to capture current window to clipboard
Command-Shift-3 to capture full screen to a file;
Control-Command-Shift-3 to copy the full screen to the Clipboard;
Command-Shift-4 to capture selected area of the screen to a file. Press spacebar to automatically select the window under the cursor;
Control-Command-Shift-4 to copy the selected area to the Clipboard.
Select All Control-A Command-A
Separator used in path names Backslash (\) Forward slash (/)
Show Desktop Click Show Desktop shortcut in Taskbar F11
System information System in Control Panel “About this Mac” in the Apple menu (top left corner of the screen)
Tabbed browsing Available in Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox In Safari, is off by default. Enable in Safari’s preferences
Undo Control-Z Command-Z

The following list of applications is merely based on commonly used ones and is no recommendation for those listed, nor against any not mentioned. Those that usually come pre-installed on new Macs are indicated by being underlined.

Purpose On Windows On Mac
Browser Internet Explorer;
Calendaring (personal) Outlook iCal
Calendaring (professional) Outlook;
Lotus Notes
Microsoft Entourage;
Lotus Notes
Database Access Filemaker
Desktop publishing (home) Microsoft Publisher;
The Print Shop
Apple Pages;
The Print Shop
Desktop publishing (professional) Adobe InDesign;
Adobe InDesign;
Email client (personal) Outlook Express;
Microsoft Entourage;
Email client (professional) Outlook Microsoft Entourage
Flash content creation Flash Flash
Illustration Adobe Illustrator;
Adobe Illustrator;
Image editing (home) Adobe Photoshop Elements Adobe Photoshop Elements
Image editing (professional) Adobe Photoshop Adobe Photoshop
Instant Messaging Microsoft Messenger;
Yahoo Messenger
Microsoft Messenger;
Yahoo Messenger
Internet telephone calls Skype Skype
Movie Editing (home) Movie Maker;
Adobe Premiere Elements
Final Cut Express
Movie Editing (professional) Adobe Premiere Professional Final Cut Pro
Music Player Windows Media Player;
PDF viewer Adobe Reader Preview
PDF creation Adobe Acrobat Built-in print-to-PDF facility;
Adobe Acrobat
Photo management (personal) Google’s Picassa iPhoto
Photo management (professional) Adobe Lightroom Apple Aperture;
Adobe Lightroom
Presentation Powerpoint Powerpoint;
Apple Keynote
Spreadsheet Excel Excel
Text editor Notepad;
Web page authoring (professional) Dreamweaver Dreamweaver
Widgets Yahoo Widget Engine Dashboard;
Yahoo Widget Engine
Word Processing Microsoft Word Microsoft Word;
Apple Pages

Obviously this article is just scratching the surface, so if you’d like to add any other differences and their equivalents, let us know, because we will keep updating this list so it can always be a useful and current resource for switchers.


  • what about Pages for word processing?  Its a good program.

    Kaekae had this to say on Mar 13, 2007 Posts: 9
  • Exactly. Pages may be not as “professional”, but you could state AppleWorks (ok it’s old, but it works, also for Spreadsheets), OpenOffice, NeoOffice, Nisus Writer…

    Oh, and for Email: Eudora, Thunderbird (incl. Newsreader).

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Mar 13, 2007 Posts: 371
  • Heheh. Pages was sthe only one I definitely had consternation about leaving off. I decided it was much more of a DTP app than word processing.

    But two against one, so I will add it. smile

    Chris Howard had this to say on Mar 13, 2007 Posts: 1209
  • Pages is not a word processor.  It CAN be used for making documents, but technically so can Photoshop.  That doesn’t make it a very good tool for the job however.

    Under Chris’s original definition of “commonly used” apps, he was right the first time.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Mar 13, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • Hey, Beeb, welcome back!

    Chris Howard had this to say on Mar 13, 2007 Posts: 1209
  • Just to be fair, I strongly suggest adding another table for the stuff you can do on a mac and can’t do on Pcs.

    Example, all the stuff built in by default into the OS X or bundled by default with any machine you buy like Spotlight, widgets, Creating PDFs, Expose’, Taking screen snapshots, Zooming to a section of your screen, iLife and the list is endless…

    To do any of the above on windows, you need to install or purchase 3rd party software which takes a lot of work and tweaking and money too.

    Also I would like you to say that using ctrl,alt,del on windows to quit applications never works (except 10% of cases). And that the force quit feature on Mac is unparalleled on windows and it’s more than 90% effective so you don’t have to stare at your desktop waiting for your machine to come back to life after that stupid app quits.

    Wizard Graphics had this to say on Mar 14, 2007 Posts: 5
  • Just to be fair, I strongly suggest adding another table for the stuff you can do on a mac and can’t do on Pcs.

    In what way would that be “fair”?  It would only be fair if you did the same with a list of things a PC can do but OS X can’t, or that requires third-party software, eh?

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Mar 14, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • Wizard, that’d make this article wayyy too big. smile

    The intent of this piece was to help reduce the frustration of doing the things they already know how to do (on the PC). That’s what I’ve notice in the classroom. The PC users on the Mac get frustrated because they don’t know the Mac equivalents and sometimes assume therefore the Mac can’t do it.

    When I turn this piece into a book, then your suggestion would definitely find its place there.

    And Beeb’s too. Coz if there is no way of doing something on a Mac without third party apps, then it’s a good idea to tell the user, to save them wasting time, and to help them find a solution.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Mar 14, 2007 Posts: 1209
  • When I turn this piece into a book, then your suggestion would definitely find its place there.

    And Beeb’s too.

    Just be sure and cut me in on the sweet, sweet moola.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Mar 14, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • lol. I don’t think there’d be much of that -it’d prob be a Lulu.com job as I doubt there’s enough switchers for a publisher to take it on.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Mar 14, 2007 Posts: 1209
  • But…but…Chris…the HALO effect.  THE HALO EFFECT!

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Mar 14, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • heheh - yeah, I guess i forgot my piece about the halo effect of the iPhone. But that’s still only *potential*. It’s logically what should happen, but there’s no room for logic in the computer industry smile.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Mar 14, 2007 Posts: 1209
  • I was thinking of the iPod halo effect, which has already been in total and full force for two years now, resulting in a huge monumental swing in market share for the Mac.

    Given the hype, I fully expect the iPhone halo effect to be much grander, like bringing Sunni and Shia together with Israel for lasting peace in the middle east, an end to global warming, and a cure for cancer.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Mar 14, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • ...cure cancer… Ah! so you did read my RDF piece then, Beeb.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Mar 15, 2007 Posts: 1209
  • I have had only two replies to my post above and yet I have received a dozen email notifications. Why is that happening Chris? Isn’t that SPAMMING?

    Wizard Graphics had this to say on Mar 16, 2007 Posts: 5
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