Thinking of making the leap from a Windows PC to the Mac? Already switched from PC to Mac but feeling a little lost and confused – wondering, perhaps, how to find your way around the new setup, or how to find replacements for your favourite apps and features? You’ve come to the right place.
In our giant migration guide we answer the big questions facing those brave (and in our opinion sensible) souls swapping from the Windows to the macOS platform. If you have any unanswered questions add them in the comments and we’ll be sure to address them in a future update.
This year, as in previous years, Apple’s share of the traditional computing marketplace has increased. No doubt this is because the introduction of the new
MacBook Pro 2016 TouchBar range has introduced a whole new generation of switchers to the Mac platform. So what better time for a bang-up-to-date guide to switching from Windows to Mac? Read next:
A PC users’ guide to using a Mac
Installation & updates
Which version of macOS or Mac OS X should I install?
New releases of OS X are made yearly, usually in autumn. Unlike with Windows, OS X is improved incrementally and complete
Windows 8/10-like overhauls of the operating system are rare.
Therefore, the latest version of OS X is best for most users and performance/
compatibility on older Macs is very good – Yosemite/El Capitan will install on Macs that are five or even more years old, for example. Following the OS X Mavericks release in 2013, each release of OS X has been entirely free of charge and can be downloaded via the App Store.
How do I update my Mac system?
The equivalent of Windows Update is found by clicking the Apple menu at the top left of the desktop, clicking App Store, and then clicking the Updates tab. This will update OS X itself, system components like iTunes, and any apps you installed via the App Store. Other apps have their own update routines – usually there’s an option in the Preferences dialog box to automatically check for updates, while apps like Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Cloud install background apps that inform you when updates are available.
Macs are updated by clicking the Updates icon within the App Store – and this is true even for major operating system updates
How do I install or reinstall macOS?
See the section above discussing OS X Recovery. Alternatively, if your Mac is still bootable you can use the Mac App Store to download the latest version of OS X for reinstallation over the existing installation without losing data. Just search for the name of the version of OS X you’re using (that is, Yosemite or El Capitan), and click the Download link alongside it. If you’re running an older version of OS X that lack the App Store you will need to use Software Update instead, which you’ll find it on the Apple menu.
Alternatively, if your Mac is old enough you can use the installation DVD-ROM that came with the computer – just insert it, then reboot and hold down D before the Apple logo appears. However, since Mac OS X 10.7 Lion in 2011, OS X has only been made available via download – even if you’ve bought a new Mac. It’s also possible to create an installation USB stick.
How do I activate the macOS operating system, enter its product key (aka serial number), or check that it’s legitimately licensed?
There’s no need for any of this. Apple includes macOS free with every Mac and, since 2013, both major and minor updates have also been free for any Mac that’s compatible. Therefore, the idea of a Mac running an illegitimate copy of macOS doesn’t really make sense (at least outside of the
Where do I find the serial or registration number/key required to install macOS?
There isn’t one. Apple (mostly) eschews serial numbers across its entire product range and apps install without any such nonsense.
How do I dual-boot Windows or Linux on my Mac?
The BootCamp installation wizard lets you
install Windows 8/10 on Macs, and you’ll find it in the Utilities folder of the Applications list (note that Windows 7 is no longer officially supported). Just follow the instructions. Installing Linux is not officially supported but can be achieved via apps like
I’m tired of macOS. Can I just wipe it and install Windows? Modern Macs are just another PC… Right?
Although Macs nowadays use Intel CPUs and are similar to a PC, they’re sufficiently different to mean you can’t simply insert a Windows DVD/USB stick and install it over the existing macOS operating system.
The main issue is the unique Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI) used by Macs that controls booting. In order to use a non-macOS operating system this needs to be configured by the
Boot Camp Assistant app that’s built into macOS. Boot Camp Assistant will also create a USB stick full of the necessary Windows drivers, and repartition the disk to make space for Windows.
Once you’ve installed Windows using Boot Camp Assistant you can then delete the macOS partition if you wish – although we’d advise leaving it there.
Beginner’s guide to the Mac
What’s the Mac equivalent of Windows 10’s Task View/virtual desktops?
The Task View feature in Windows 10 is a clear rip-off of Mission Control, which has been in macOS/OS X for several years and works nearly identically.
To access Mission Control, either hit the shortcut key at the top of the keyboard (or the TouchBar icon), or run the Mission Control app in the Applications list of Finder. To add new desktops click the plus button at the top right. To switch between desktops, either bring-up Mission Control and click the desktop at the top of the screen, or tap Ctrl+left or Ctrl+right. Note that’s the Ctrl key, and not Cmd!
I just can’t get used to the Dock. Is there any way to get a Start menu and taskbar on a Mac?
uBar. For what it’s worth, many people choose to hide the Dock, so it’s out of the way unless the mouse cursor is at the bottom of the screen. Alt+Cmd+D switches on and off Dock hiding.
How do I play my DVD or Blu-ray discs on my Mac?
Apple prefers you to purchase or rent movies within iTunes and to this end no Macs come with an optical drive nowadays. Therefore, first of all you’ll need to purchase a USB DVD or Blu-ray drive.
DVDs will play immediately once inserted via the built-in macOS DVD Player app. To play BluRay discs you’ll need a commercial app such as
Aiseesoft Mac Blu-ray Player or
Macgo Blu-Ray Player.
How do I zip files/unzip files?
Right-click a file or folder and select the Compress option to instantly create a zip archive alongside the original file(s). Note that it’s not possible to add a password to a zip using macOS, or set the strength of compression. To decompress a zipped file, simply double-click it and again the decompressed contents will instantly appear in the same folder.
macOS supports zip compression and some Linux/Unix archive file formats out of the box, but support for decompressing other major formats – including RAR – can be added by installing the free-of-charge
The Unarchiver. Also note that there are macOS versions of both
How do I assign a drive letter to my USB stick or other removable storage?
Macs don’t use drive letters. Any USB stick you insert should appear in the left-hand sidebar of Finder under the Devices heading.
Technically speaking, USB sticks are “mounted” within folders in the /Volumes folder – and you can browse directly to this by opening Finder, hitting Shift+Cmd+G, then typing /Volumes before clicking Go.
How do I access my digital camera once I’ve connected it via USB?
It should appear as an entry in the lefthand sidebar of Finder under the Devices heading, and you should also find that Photos opens to let you automatically import any content.
However, you can also manually import photos and videos using the Preview app, which is in the Applications list of Finder. Once the camera is attached via USB, click the File menu, and then select the relevant Import From entry at the bottom of the menu.
Importing content via this method is very similar to the way it’s been done for years on Windows in that you’ll see thumbnail previews of the camera contents and can pick and choose which to import – and where you’d like them to be stored on your Mac.
Where can I view Device Manager for my Mac?
The macOS System Information app shows similar information about hardware devices, the operating system and apps installed on the system. It doesn’t let you adjust any settings but this is much less necessary because of the tight integration between operating system and hardware in a Mac.
You can find the System Information app by clicking the Apple menu, then About This Mac. Then click the System Report button. In future you might choose to just hold down the Alt key (Option on some keyboards), and click the Apple menu, and then the System Information menu option.
How do I install new audio/video codecs on my Mac?
Outside of specialist codecs for audio-visual work, there’s currently no way to add additional codecs to macOS.
macOS supports a select handful of today’s commonly used codecs and container files out of the box, such as MP3 audio and H.264 video files that typically have an .mp4 file extension. The older MPEG2 format used on DVDs is also supported.
If you attempt to play a video file in an unsupported codec, macOS might attempt to temporarily transcode it into MP4 before each and every playback, which typically takes a long time. However, some video formats, including the once-popular DivX/Xvid format (MP4 Layer 2), are simply not supported on macOS.
Often the simplest solution is to use a third-party playback app like the free-of-charge
VLC, which is able to read virtually every video/audio type (including the popular Matroska Video File (.mkv) container format), or to manually transcode the video to MP4 using a free-of-charge app like
How to set up a new Mac
How do I find hardware drivers?
You very likely won’t need them. Just plug in the hardware and use it – USB sticks and memory cards will be found under the Devices heading of Finder.
However, there are perhaps two exceptions. Graphics drivers are installed with each macOS update but for cutting-edge gaming performance only if your Mac feature Nvidia graphics you can
install new drivers manually. If your Mac uses Intel or AMD graphics then you cannot manually update the drivers because Intel and AMD don’t make them available to end users.
The other exception is
printer drivers, which you might need to download from the manufacturer’s website. However, many drivers are built into macOS for popular models. To check if a printer is installed, open System Preferences and click the Printers & Scanners heading. If the printer doesn’t appear in the list, click the Plus icon at the bottom left and follow the instructions.
Drivers usually aren’t required for Mac OS X although the exception can be for printers for which a driver isn’t included within OS X itself
How do I scan documents or photographs on my Mac?
The equivalent of Windows Photo Gallery or Windows Fax and Scan is found in System Preferences – click the Printers & Scanners heading, then select the scanner or multifunction device in the list at the left and click the Scan tab, and then the Open Scanner button.
How do I get files off my Windows-formatted USB stick or memory card?
Just insert it into your Mac. Macs can understand the FAT format used on most USB sticks, memory cards and external hard drives. If the stick, card or disk is NTFS-formatted you’ll only be able to read files and not write new ones. If you frequently need read/write access to NTFS-formatted disk, third-party apps like
Tuxera NTFS for Mac or
Paragon NTFS for Mac can help.
Apps & games
Where do I get Mac equivalents for Windows apps like Microsoft Office?
Mac versions of most popular apps are available. Just hit Google.
login to your Office 365 subscription and you’ll find a download link for Microsoft Office 2016.
Adobe Creative Cloud is available for Mac.
Dropbox is available for Mac and, of course, iTunes comes built-into OS X. There’s a
Mac version of TrueCrypt, although because the project was abandoned a number of years ago you’ll need to
hack it slightly to make it work on modern releases of macOS.
There’s just one Windows app that I can’t find a Mac replacement for!
There’s a handful of possible routes, other than installing Windows via BootCamp (see below).
The first is to run a
virtualised version of Windows, where Windows runs essentially as a desktop app. Apps like VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop include clever immersive modes where the Windows desktop is hidden and the app appears to run like a native Mac app, including having its own Dock icon.
The second route is to use an app like
CrossOver Office, which uses
Wine to allow certain Windows apps to run via a kind of emulation. Support for Windows apps can be a bit patchy, however, and it’s really only really the hugely popular ones like Microsoft Office that work acceptably.
Here’s a quick look-up table:
Notepad/WordPad: TextEdit in the Applications list of Finder; click Format > Make Plain Text to switch to Notepad-like basic text editing, or Format > Make Rich Text to switch to more advanced WordPad-like features
Command Prompt/Windows PowerShell: Terminal in the Utilities folder within the Applications list
Snipping Tool: Grab in the Utilities folder within the Applications list, or via the macOS
built-in screenshotting tool
Character Map: Within any application, click Edit > Emoji & Symbols
Windows Media Player: QuickTime Player in the Applications list of Finder
Quick Assist/Remote Desktop Connection: Open iMessage, start a conversation with the individual (who must be using a Mac), click the down arrow next to their name at the top of the conversation, and click Invite To Share My Screen
File Explorer: Finder, which is always the first button on the Dock
Task Manager: To force-quit currently-running apps, hold down Alt+Command and tap Esc. To view technical info about currently-running apps, open Activity Monitor, which is in the Utilities folder of the Applications list.
Edge/Internet Explorer: Safari in the Applications list of Finder
Cortana: Siri, which can be activated by clicking the Dock icon, or by holding Cmd+Space for a few seconds. Read more:
How to use Siri on Mac
Messages: iMessage in the Applications list of Finder
OneDrive: iCloud Drive, accessed via its icon in the left-hand sidebar of Finder
Some apps like Mail, Calendar, Photos and Maps have identically named analogues in the Applications list of Finder. There is no swap-in for Paint, in terms of creating art or diagrams from scratch, although the Preview app is used to view and markup existing images and PDFs.
I was told Pages, Keynote, Numbers, iMovie etc were free with a new Mac but they’re not on mine! How do I get them?
Just open the App Store, which is in the list of Applications in Finder. You’ll be prompted to install them automatically.
I’m a gamer, and although the Mac is getting better when it comes to games, some titles simply aren’t available. What are my options?
As with the previous answer about running Windows software, some people use Wine to play Windows games and – despite its name –
CrossOver Office can help. It supports classics like World of Warcraft, for example.
Alternatively, the free-of-charge
Wineskin app can also make setup of Wine for Windows game playing a lot easier.
You can also virtualise Windows in an app like VMware Fusion or Parallels Desktop, although nearly always the only way to get a fully satisfactory experience with a good frame rate is to install Windows on your Mac via BootCamp and boot to it when you want to play games. For more details see our
guide to gaming on a Mac. Oh, and you might change your mind about the Mac library when you’ve read our roundup of the
best Mac games.
PC vs Mac: Which is best?
Can macOS apps run full-screen, like Metro apps in Windows 8/10?
Many can, yes. Just click the green blob at the top left of the app window. This will also auto-hide the menu, application bar and Dock, but hovering the mouse cursor at the top or bottom of the screen can reveal all.
Apps can be switched back to standard windows by again clicking the green blob or, if this isn’t visible, you might try clicking the View menu, and then the Exit Full Screen option. Hitting the Escape key might work too.
How do I control what apps start when my Mac boots?
The equivalent to the Windows Start menu’s Startup folder is found by opening System Preferences, clicking the Users & Groups icon, selecting your username at the left, and clicking the Login Items tab. Select an item then click the minus button beneath to remove it. Some apps hide away in system folders, however, and pruning them is only for advanced users.
Which apps start when Mac OS X boots is controlled via the Users & Groups section of System Preferences
Settings & preferences
How to I edit the macOS Registry in order to tweak system settings?
Unlike Microsoft Windows, macOS doesn’t use a central
Registry file to store hardware and software settings. Instead, each app has its own discrete configuration file, usually found in the Application Support folder of the hidden Library folder inside your personal Users folder.
System settings are in the /Library/Application Support folder. Each file is in the .plist Property List XML format, and it’s not intended for the user to directly edit them.
Where do I find the Control Panel on a Mac in order to adjust settings?
Most system settings can be tweaked via the System Preferences app, which you’ll find in the Applications list within Finder. (We cover that exhaustively here:
Complete guide to System Preferences.)
Most apps including all the macOS built-in apps, such as iTunes, have their own discrete settings dialog boxes that can be accessed by opening the app and clicking the application menu, and then Preferences. Alternatively, the Cmd+comma keystroke will open the preferences dialog box.
Can I optimise my Mac’s performance by tweaking BIOS or UEFI settings?
Macs use a form of EFI but there’s no optimisation settings or boot-time console/setup screen. Because Apple controls both the operating system and the hardware, Macs are optimised out of the box.
What’s the Mac equivalent of FDISK for repairing and scanning disks?
Macs use a
different filesystem technology compared to Windows and it’s simply more resilient, so the likes of unexpected shutdowns are repaired automatically and invisibly. However, two maintenance tasks can be attempted if you run into file or app corruption. Both are accessed via Disk Utility, which is in the Utilities folder of the Applications list.
Select the main Mac OS partition at the left of the Disk Utility window – it’ll be indented beneath the disk’s main entry in the list. Each option discussed below offers Verify and Repair options. The former won’t fix anything but merely produces a diagnostic report.
- Verify/Repair Permissions: Repairing disk permissions ensures system files have the correct ownership and access permissions, but can also highlight read/write disk errors that might indicate disk failure. Just click Repair Disk Permissions and wait for the task to complete. Note that a handful of minor errors always appear and can usually be ignored – those relating to displaypolicyd, InstalledPrinters.plist and ARDAgent, for example. Note too that OS X El Capitan doesn’t feature a verify/repair permissions option, perhaps because of this tendency to report false positives.
- Verify/Repair Disk: This option, found to the right of the Verify/Repair Permissions buttons, attempts to repair underlying file structures and tables. However, some errors simply can’t be repaired while the operating system is up and running, and you’ll be told to repair the disk using Disk Utility while running OS X Recovery, as explained under the heading What’s The Mac Equivalent of Safe Mode?.
The Mac equivalent of FDISK is the Disk Utility, which can repair errors and otherwise administer all kinds of disks
Security & privacy
What antivirus or antimalware software should I install on my Mac?
Macs feature built-in
antivirus and antimalware background apps, making apps like Windows Defender unnecessary. Your Mac will automatically block browser plugins if a zero-day exploit is found, for example, or even remove known malware without the user being aware.
However, you might choose to augment this with your choice of antivirus app and several examples are free in the App Store. They typically scan on demand, rather than sit in the background monitoring for infections or scanning periodically. Be aware that they also report and remove Windows viruses that might be infecting your files or emails.
Adware is a sadly increasing problem, and the free
Adware Medic app can search for and remove examples.
Although malware and adware aren’t huge issues for Mac users it’s still possible to get apps like Adware Medic to scan your system
Mac keyboard short cuts you need to know
How do I back up my Mac?
The Mac equivalent of the Windows Backup and Restore app is
Time Machine. Just attach a USB disk drive and an option should appear offering to make use of it.
If you don’t see this, open System Preferences, then click the Time Machine icon and move the OFF/ON switch to ON. You can also use a
Time Capsule, which works over Wi-Fi avoiding the need for a direct connection. Time Machine and Time Capsule are fully automated and work in the background. Read more:
How to back up a Mac
Mac OS X backup is handled via Time Machine or Time Capsule, and can be controlled via the Time Machine component of System Preferences
How do I encrypt a disk on a Mac?
Mac contains built-in disk FileVault encryption that’s similar to Windows’ BitLocker in that it encrypts the entire disk, including user data. To activate FileVault, open System Preferences (it’s in the Applications list of Finder), then click the Security & Privacy icon, and select the FileVault tab. Then click the Turn On FileVault button and follow the instructions.
Depending on the speed of your Mac’s disk, encryption will take a few hours to complete in the background. Macs are fully usable while encryption is taking place, and you can view a progress bar within System Preferences. Note that if you’ve a MacBook then encryption will only happen when your Mac is connected to the power.
encrypt a removable disk like a USB disk, open Disk Utility (see above), select the removable disk’s partition in the list at the left of the app window, and select the Erase tab before selecting Mac OS Extended (Journaled, Encrypted) from the Format dropdown list, then click Erase and follow the instructions. As will hopefully be obvious, this will erase whatever is on the disk so backup files temporarily first. The encrypted disk will only be compatible with Macs.
What’s the Mac equivalent of Safe Mode?
Macs have a
Safe Mode – just hold down Shift just before the Apple logo appears when booting – and it’s similar to Windows’ Safe Mode in that it’ll not load potentially problematic system extensions or hardware drivers.
OS X Recovery should be used if you need to repair things, and can be accessed by holding down Cmd+R while booting. This offers the ability to access Disk Utility, restore a Time Machine backup (see below), or
even install Mac OS from scratch by downloading the files direct from Apple – no DVD required!
Can I protect my Mac with a BIOS password?
FileVault is certainly the best form of protection for your data, as discussed above. However, it’s still possible for somebody with physical access to your Mac to wipe it via a boot disk. The solution is to set a Firmware Password, which password-protects booting in a manner other than via the usual user login.
Boot into OS X Recovery, as described under the heading What’s the Mac equivalent of Safe Mode?, then click Utilities > Firmware Password Utility. Follow the instructions. Be extremely careful! If you
forget this password then only an Apple genius can unlock your computer. This is perhaps why this feature is optional and hidden.
Important note: At the time of writing there’s a bug with OS X Recovery whereby it selects a US keyboard layout for British English Macs. This means some keyboard symbols are in the wrong places – you might think you’re typing 1234£ as a password, for example, but you’ll actually be typing 1234#. To avoid this, always check the language settings on the menu bar at the top right of the screen, or only use passwords involving letters and numbers.
A boot-time password can be added to protect Macs from booting via USB memory stick, or similar