Glenn Stok is a technical writer with a Master of Science degree. He evaluates products for consumers and clearly explains their features.
Are you a Windows PC user thinking about getting an Apple Mac? I switched after 30 years using Microsoft, and I’ll tell you what I learned and what I needed to do to make the transition.
I have a Masters Degree in Computer Science, so I should have found this easy. But there were things that I needed to resolve. In the end, it was worthwhile. I'll make it easy for you.
This article is lengthy, but feel free to browse the subheadings and read what's important to you. I won't get into any involved technical explanations. The purpose of this article is to show you the difference between Apple macOS and Microsoft Windows.
Why I Decided to Switch to an Apple Mac
When I was ready to buy a new PC, I began to research the pricing. I was surprised to discover that Windows no longer included the applications that I need, such as Outlook for my email and MS Word to write document files. These cost extra now.
Apple includes useful applications, such as email and a calendar. And other apps are a lot less costly than the equivalent on a PC.
Diehard MS Office users such as I am, are not at a loss with Apple. Microsoft makes a Mac-compatible version. I’m using it, and it’s completely compatible with all my old files, and it’s functionality similar.
A strong motivating factor for switching my desktop to Apple was that I already had several Apple products, such as the iPad and iPhone. I thought it’s time to get an iMac for my desktop so that I’m totally in the Apple ecosystem.
The advantage is that all my devices can sync with one another via Apple’s iCloud. For example, when I set a reminder on one device, it’s also available on the other. Any additions I make to my contacts on my desktop are in my contacts on my iPhone. That's the advantage of modern technology when properly implemented.
Comparing the iMac to the Mac Mini
Once I decided to go with Apple, I compared the latest iMac to the Mac Mini. I didn’t like the iMac because it’s a sealed computer built into the screen. If the hard drive crashes, you can't open it to change it yourself.
Apple has a particular way to peel off the glass screen to get inside. The same is done with the iPad and iPhone when a new battery needs to be installed. Obviously, this is not something for an end-user to do.
The iMac is available in two screen sizes: 21.5-inch and 27-inch. The smaller size has no user access to change memory. You have to buy it with all the memory that you’ll ever need. That is more expensive than similar premium-quality memory made by other manufacturers.
I also didn’t like the glossy screen. It reflects light like a mirror. I wanted to have my own choice of monitors. You can use any monitor with the Mac Mini.
I actually saved money by buying a 1080p HD TV for the monitor. It connects to the Mac via its HDMI port. I discovered that a good HDTV has the same quality as the iMac screen.1
16 Major macOS Releases
I felt more comfortable with the Mac Mini because it is more flexible than the iMac and costs less too. There are no limitations since it uses the same macOS and apps that run on the iMac.
I ended up buying a late 2012 model in December 2012 with a 256GB solid-state drive rather than a hard drive. I wanted the extra speed you get with a solid-state drive, and 256 Gigabytes was enough for me.
It had Mountain Lion installed when I bought it. Microsoft required people to pay for upgrades, but Apple always upgrades users free to the latest macOS. Since then, I had upgraded to Mojave.
As of late 2019, Catalina was the 16th major macOS release. I didn't upgrade to that yet because it only supports 64-bit software, and I still have one older 32-bit app that I didn't replace.2
I’ve had my Mac Mini for eight years now. The 2020 model uses the 8th Generation Intel Core processor, giving it much more power. I might decide to buy the next release since they just keep getting better. Besides, my late 2012 model won't be able to run the next macOS after Catalina.
The following table shows the difference between the various models.
Comparison of Mac Mini 2012, 2014, and 2020
|Mac Mini 2012 MD388LL/A||Mac Mini 2014 MGEN2LL/A||Mac Mini 2020 MXNF2LL/A|
2.3 GHz Intel Quad-Core i7
2.6 GHz Intel Dual-Core i5
3.6 GHz Intel Core i3 Quad-Core
4 to 16 GB SDRAM
8 to 16 GB SDRAM
8 to 64 GB DDR4 RAM
1 TB 5400 rpm HD or 256 GB SSD
1 TB 5400 rpm HD or 256 GB SSD
256 GB to 2TB PCIe SSD
1 Thunderbolt port (10 Gb/s)
2 Thunderbolt ports (Ver 2)
2 Thunderbolt ports (Ver 3)
DisplayPort replaced by 2nd Thunderbolt
Native DisplayPort output via Thunderbolt
4 USB-3.0 ports (5 Gb/s)
4 USB-3.0 ports (5 Gb/s)
4 USB-3.1 ports (5 Gb/s)
HDMI Ver 2.0 port
SDXC card slot
SDXC card slot
SDXC card slot
Gigabit Ethernet port
Gigabit Ethernet port
Gigabit Ethernet port
3.5mm headphone jack
3.5mm headphone jack
3.5mm headphone jack
No More User-Accessible Memory
The Mac Mini's before 2014 had a user-accessible capability to change the RAM, so you weren't forced to buy memory from Apple.
I bought mine with the least amount of memory and expanded to the max memory of 16 Gigabytes by buying two 8 Gig chips from Amazon. That was a lot cheaper than purchasing the memory directly from Apple.
All Mac Mini models no longer make the RAM user-accessible.
Apple Makes Things Simple for the Layman
When I started using the Mac, I was disappointed that the features I was used to having on a PC were not available. At first, I thought Apple didn’t provide the same capability. But then I found that the same features do exist in Apple's macOS. One just needs to enable them.
Apple disabled advanced features because they feel most people are computer illiterate and don't understand computer-related tasks. How sad it is that they think that.
I know you can handle it, and you want it, so I'll show you how to enable all the hidden features in your Apple macOS.
How to Copy and Paste
The Mac has the same copy and paste features that you have on Windows. You highlight the text, right-click, and select copy. Then place the cursor where you want to paste, right-click and select paste.
Alternatively, instead of right-clicking, you can use the shortcut keys. They are similar to a PC also. Hold the command key (same as the CTRL key on Windows) while pressing C to copy or V to paste.
To be clear, press Command-C to copy and Command-V to paste.
How to Show the URL in Safari's Status Bar Before Clicking
Apple’s Safari web browser has some useful features disabled by default to make things simpler for the layman.
I like to see the actual URL of a link before I click on it. That helps me avoid clicking to a fraudulent site that may inadvertently install malware on my machine. For this reason, I always hover my mouse over a link, so I can verify if the actual destination is what I expect it to be before actually clicking on the link.
On my PC, that always displayed in the lower-left corner when hovering. But my Mac did not show this information until I discovered that I could enable that too, by selecting:
“View > Show Status Bar”
How to Enable the Developer Menu in Safari
As a web developer, I need to examine the source code of web pages at times. That is also useful when I want to check out a problem.
Apple hides the ability to do that by default, but it can be enabled. If you want to see the source code and have other nifty developer’s tools, you can turn on a “Develop” pull-down menu. Here’s how:
In the Safari menu, select:
“Preferences > Advanced tab”
Under the Advanced tab, place a checkmark for
“Show Develop menu in menubar”
as shown below. Now you’ll have the additional “Develop” menu.
How to See a Web Page Source Code
After you have enabled the "Develop" menu, the source code of any web page can be viewed by clicking:
“Develop > Show Page Source”
By the way, I also downloaded and installed Firefox on my Mac. Firefox has that option to see the source of web pages as a default setting. And it’s easier to use than the source view in Safari.
How to Make the Magic Mouse Work Normally
Scrolling with the Smart Mouse was a bit strange at first because it was backward from the way I was used to with a scroll wheel.
The Magic Mouse has no moving wheel, but it responds to the movements of your finger on its surface as if there were a wheel.
I discovered that this backward scrolling could be reversed so that it functions as a standard mouse wheel. Just change the “Scroll Direction” in the Mouse settings under System Preferences.
After using the Magic Mouse for a while, I didn’t like it. It was too small for my hand. Therefore, I use a two-button Logitech Mouse with a scrolling wheel. The Apple Mac supports that just fine. All its settings can be adjusted in the Mouse settings under System Preferences.
Handy File Usage Features
Apple also likes to hide file-handling features because many people don't think about a file structure. And again, they want to make things simple.
However, you are one of those who understand the nature of organizing data, and you want that power in your hands. So I'll cover all that in the next few sections.
How to Show the Path to Files in Finder
A feature that I always liked having on my PC was the ability to see the directory thread when viewing a list of files.
With Finder, you can list files sorted by name, date, size, or other criteria. You can also list files by location, known as folders.
But what if you forgot where you saved something?
I like to know where my files are located. That is not a standard feature on a Mac because Apple thinks people don't understand what a file structure is. Or maybe they just want to keep things simple.
Apple's tool for finding your files is the "File Path Bar" in Finder.
I was able to enable that feature in Finder as shown below by selecting:
“View > Show Path Bar”
How Finder Organizes Files
As you've known on your PC, you can save files in folders (or directories), and you can create new folders to organize your data.
Each folder can have subfolders that you create to place your files in meaningful locations. But sometimes we tend to forget where we saved a file. I admit that forget once in a while.
The Finder app allows you to select the folder you want to browse. A default list of folders is in the left-hand column of Finder. Preset folders are Applications, Desktop, Documents, Downloads, Movies, Music, and Pictures.
You can include other folders your've created if you want then quickly available. Just drag the folder to the left-hand column.
How to Find Forgotten Files
Did you ever completely forget where you saved a specific file? You created a folder for it, but you can't recall what you named it. I've done that many times, and it's frustrating.
That is where Finder's search feature comes in handy. Just select the home (top-most) folder in Finder and enter any string of data in the search field. All the files with that data string will appear, no matter where you saved them.
Files are listed in time order: Today, yesterday, Previous 7 days, Previous 30 days, and Earlier. That makes it easy to find a forgotten file if you can remember when you worked with it approximately.
Tagging Files with Color Codes
Files can be tagged with color dots, as shown below. There are several colors to choose from, so you can use different colors to represent various categories.
For example, I use yellow to mark files that I need to work on with high priority.
Prior to OS X El Capitan, Apple highlighted the entire filename with the selected color. I feel the change to using merely a colored dot was a poor choice since the dot is not as noticeable. I don't know why they ever bothered to make that change.
Protection From Opening the Same File Twice
I remember on my PC, Windows let me open the same file that was already open by another program. It did not warn me until I tried to save it. That might have been too late if I had made a lot of changes that I didn't want to lose.
With the Mac, when I open a file that already is open, it automatically switches me over to the window where I have the other program using the file.
I think that’s much safer since it avoids making the mistake of editing the same file in two different windows, which would cause the first saved version to be lost. You can’t make that mistake with a Mac.
Speak Time and Alerts
The Mac has speech capability that you can enable for various tasks, such as speaking the time on the hour or half-hour.
It can also speak alerts from applications. I like having my reminder app say: “It’s 2 PM, leave for the doctor appointment.”
All macOS from Mountain Lion to the latest can be enabled to let you dictate in any application where you would generally be typing.
That is similar to Siri that I use on my iPad. It works well, and it even underlines words that it is not sure it understood. But it sometimes types something entirely different than what you meant, just because it sounds the same. You need to be cautious with it and review what it types for you while you're talking.
To use dictation, or any app that requires voice input, you need to connect a microphone to the Mac. You can do that with a microphone or headset with mic that has a 3.5mm plug to connect to the headphone jack. You can also use a mic or headset that attaches to a USB port. The Mac Mini will recognize either input.
I found that when I enter a reminder for a specific date and time, it is also present on my iPad and iPhone. And it alerts me on both. That works the other way around too. Anything I enter as a reminder on any Apple device will alert me on my Mac as well.
You do have to enable iCloud for that to work. The apps on all devices stay in sync with one another via iCloud. I don't allow iCloud for every app, just for those I want to enable syncing between devices.
Compatibility with the HP Printer/Scanner
I use an HP printer. With my old PC, I had to install the HP Solutions Center, a software package that controlled all aspects of the printer.
When I connected the printer to my Mac, it was immediately recognized, and the Mac downloaded the correct driver from Apple without any effort.
I found that I was able to use the printer and the scanner. It all worked flawlessly.
Microsoft Office for Mac
I wanted to have the full MS Office suite since I was used to it. But I didn’t need Outlook because Apple comes with its own email app.
There are two versions of Office for the Mac:
- WPX includes Word, Powerpoint and Excel,
- and WPXO, which includes Outlook as well.
They are both available on Amazon or from your local office supply store.
I could have used Apple’s version of Word and Excel. But that was my choice. Apple's Pages app is somewhat similar to MS Word, and Numbers is the app that replaces Excel. You can download both at no cost from Apple's app store.
Protection From Malicious Software
Apple has something called Gatekeeper in OS X Mountain Lion (and above) that helps protect users from downloading and installing malicious software.
Users are protected because developers need to apply for a Developer ID certificate. Gatekeeper uses this ID to avoid installing potentially malicious software.
It takes an extra step, with user verification, to install software that was not verified by Apple and does not have a Developer ID. You can select a different option that allows you to download and install any software, but I don’t recommend doing this.
As long as you keep the default settings in place, Mac OS doesn’t allow adware or spyware to get installed.
You will also be saving yourself from unwanted malware if you avoid opening any attached files you receive in an anonymous email. That's true even with Windows PCs.
Thanks to the extra security built into Mac OS, anti-virus software is not really necessary. But if you do decide to use one, it is advisable to disable it when performing OS updates. Some third-party anti-virus software cause problems when Apple installs OS updates.
Stealth Mode in macOS Firewall
Mac OS also has a built-in firewall. You can set it to stealth mode, and I highly recommend that you do. When in stealth mode, no one can ping your machine. It will not respond.
Hackers ping random IP addresses until they find a live one. Then they try to gain access to steal your personal information that you may have in files. I wonder why Apple doesn’t make stealth mode the default.
To enable stealth mode, click on “System Preferences” and select “Security & Privacy.” Then select the “Firewall” tab. Click “Firewall Options” and place a checkmark for “Enable stealth mode” as shown below.
How to Run MS Windows in a Mac Window
Since I have a few older programs that only run on Windows, I wanted to continue using them. There are several software products that allow you to run Windows on a Mac.
The two most common and stable products are:
- Parallels Desktop for the Mac
- VMWare Fusion
I use Fusion. It lets me run Windows in a Mac Window while other Mac apps are running. You do need a legal copy of Windows to install on the Mac with Fusion.
I also need to keep Windows to run some old PC software, so VMWare Fusion works well with that. I even run Windows alongside other Mac utilities. I like that Windows can run while Mac OS is alive, simultaneously.
The trick to avoid using up resources is to let Windows access the Mac hard drive directories rather than the virtual hard drive that VMWare creates. That virtual hard drive never can be reduced even if you delete files, so you need to avoid using that.
By using the actual Mac hard drive, I can access the same files in real time from either Mac OS or Windows. There is no need to copy back and forth.
Note that even though the VMWare's software is called Fusion, it has nothing to do with the Fusion Drive. That has confused some people because Apple chose to call their new hybrid drive by the same name—Fusion.
Hard Drive Vs. Solid State
Apple's Fusion drive is a hybrid. It's a combo hard drive and solid-state (SSD). The system uses intelligence to decide where to place data. Files that are used often are stored on the faster SSD.
I decided not to have a hybrid because I think too much can go wrong with all that sophisticated intelligence.
However, I still wanted an SSD because it has no moving parts, and therefore, it's faster than a spinning hard drive.
So I ordered my Mac Mini with an SSD drive. That's a choice you have to make based on your needs and your desire.
How to Copy Files From PC to Mac
One of the most important things to understand is "file compatibility" between Windows and Mac.
Windows PCs use a format known as NTFS. If you use an external drive for backup from your PC that's formatted as NTFS, then you can read the files from that drive directly into the Mac.
Mac OS X v10.3 or later can read the contents of an NTFS formatted drive, but you cannot write from the Mac to NTFS. It's only one way. At least that's how you can copy all your files to the Mac.
Later, you can use that drive to backup your Mac, but it needs to be reformatted for Time Machine.
How to Use Time Machine for Backup and Recovery
After I was sure everything was on my Mac, I reformatted my backup drive for Apple's Time Machine. Apple uses a format known as Mac OS Extended (Journaled), which is required for Time Machine.
When you first try to run Time Machine, it will guide you through a few simple steps to get it set up. It will detect the backup drive and assure the proper formatting. If it's not right, it will ask you to permit reformatting the drive. Of course, that means any data on the drive will be lost.
Once that's done, Time Machine will seamlessly back up every hour. It will take a long time at first, but each backup after that only copies files that were modified.
I love Time Machine. It runs flawlessly in the background to keep weekly, daily, and hourly backups. The oldest files are removed when the drive gets full, so that the next backup can proceed successfully.
I had used it already several times to go back in time to get older versions of files and to retrieve data I had deleted and needed again. I also used it once to bring my entire system back to the previous day after being worried that I might have installed malware. That's why it's called Time Machine.
Using Microsoft Word and Excel on the Mac
I do all my Excel work and article writing on my Mac desktop, so I wanted the original Microsoft version of both Excel and Word.
Therefore, I bought "Microsoft Office for iMac" that contains Microsoft versions of Excel, Word and Powerpoint. Outook is also included, but I use Apple’s email app anyway.
I've been happy with all of these programs since 2012 when I switched from being a PC user to being totally in the Apple ecosystem. I can tell you that these programs are the exact duplicates of what you have on a PC.
Lack of a DVD Drive Is Not a Concern
Most software can be downloaded these days at the fast speeds of the Internet, which is why computer manufacturers no longer include DVD drives.
I bought an external DVD drive just for those cases when I buy software on DVD. You can find a cheap external DVD drive on Amazon for around $25. The Mac automatically recognizes it.
Cost of Time Is a Saved Resource
Some people say they avoid Apple computers because they are more expensive than Microsoft. Well, the hardware is more expensive, but the software is much lower priced. And Apple includes many common apps with the OS, and many free to download. Microsoft charges extra for apps that are necessary for a minimal system. That’s why I switched.
In addition to that, installing and removing apps is streamlined on the Apple. Microsoft always leaves files behind when you delete unused apps, filling up disk space.
The time saved maintaining the system is also part of the cost that is saved with Apple. I used to spend hours cleaning up my PC when it started running slow—never in eight years with my Mac Mini. Time is money too.
To Sum Up
I have been using my Mac Mini for eight years now without any negative issues. I have become spoiled by the speed of booting. I no longer need to wait to use my computer as I did with my PC.
I am sure the speed has a lot to do with the fact that I chose to use an SSD drive. SSD is pure flash memory—no moving parts to slow down file access. And it draws much less power too.
Time Machine has saved me from disaster several times. It was easy to find the version of a file from the archives that I needed.
Apple always kept my apps updated with no hassles. And Mac OS had been improved several times. I never had to pay for an upgrade.
If you use Time Machine to back up your system, you can restore it to the original files and entire system structure if anything goes wrong after upgrading the OS.
As I mentioned, I already had to go back in time once, when I installed third-party software that turned out to cause problems. Restoring was easy, and Time Machine did all the work.
Life is good with Apple.
- "The Best Computer Monitor is an HDTV" - TurboFuture.com
- Roman Loyola. (April 4, 2020). “How to check if your Mac’s software is 32- or 64-bit” - Macworld
© 2015 Glenn Stok
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on June 12, 2019:
Alex Chia - VMware’s Fusion lets you install other operating systems on the Mac, but I agree that this opens the door for malware too. For this reason, I installed and run Avast (my choice) on Windows that runs with Fusion on my Mac. In my opinion, Avast is the best anti-virus and malware detection because it can run “outside” of Windows prior to bootup. It works well under Fusion too.
As for Windows slowing down the Mac—I do notice that everything I do in Windows is slow, but the Mac apps keep running at top speed even when I have Windows running in another Mac window. So it doesn’t slow down the Mac. It just runs slow itself.
Alex Chia on June 12, 2019:
HI Glenn, Wouldn't installing Fusion on a Mac slow it down and subject the Mac to malware in a window environment?
Brandi Labadia on May 26, 2017:
Thank you! I just received my MacBook Pro and I am looking forward to learning it and getting everything working on it. Thank you again for your advise.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on May 23, 2017:
Brandi, What you need is Microsoft Office for Mac. It includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, and more. All are completely compatible with the versions on Windows.
The Apple drive format is different from Microsoft. Mac can read backup drives formatted by Windows, but cannot write to them. Windows cannot read backup drives formatted for the Mac.
If you want back-and-forth compatibility, you need to format the backup drive as Fat or ExFAT. These formats can be read and written by both Apple and Windows. However, these formats have a limit to file size. This limit may not affect you unless you are working with very large files such as video or large datasets.
See the section (I think you missed) in this article under the subtitle: "Copying Files From PC to Mac"
I highly recommend Apple’s Time Machine for backing up your data, but this cannot be read by Windows computers. So you need a separate external drive for copying between you and your business partner. Remember, format that one as ExFAT.
Brandi Labadia on May 23, 2017:
Hi Glenn. Thank you for responding so quickly. The majority of my work is done in Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook and on Adobe Acrobat X Standard. I also back up everything to external hard drives. I think I read that I will need to reformat the hard drives before using them on the Mac. Is this correct?
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on May 23, 2017:
Brandi, File compatibility all depends on which programs you both are using. If you are talking about Word documents, Microsoft has a version of Word that runs on the Mac. Same is true for Excel. Text files, photos and all image files are directly compatible with no problem. Videos have various file formats and may need the proper application to play on either device. If you give me specifics I can give you a more direct answer.
Brandi on May 22, 2017:
I am thinking of switching to a Mac from a PC. My concern is that since it is mainly used for work, if I create a file on my Mac and send it to my business partner who is using a PC, will it still open for them no problem, and vice versa? I would really love to switch, but I am concerned about that.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on September 02, 2016:
Don - Your review of your experience with using your Mac adds a great deal of useful information here. Thank you for taking the time to share that.
You and I came from about the same time period. You worked on the first PC introduced my IBM and I built my own home computer a few years earlier than that, and wrote software for it. I wrote a few articles published in the trade journals of that time, which got my name out to the clone manufactures. Then DRI contracted with me to include my hard disk backup program, known as BackRest, in Concurent PC-DOS in the mid 1980s. Remember that one?
Don on September 02, 2016:
Glenn - I changed over myself at about the same time. And, it was a hard decision because I am "Old School" PC user. In fact, I was one of the Engineers selected at the GE site where I worked to review the first "PC brought out by IBM.
I won't mention how long ago that was. But you can imagine how hard it was for me to move on.
What ran me away from the PC was the constant early life deaths of the PC's I would purchase, but the constant dealing with their upgrades and the crappy Packages they used (APP wasn't popular phrase at first back then).
But, I purchased a Mac Pro and I haven't had to look back. The machine is reliable, all of my critical information is synced with my iPhone, and I haven't had the first "attack" on my Mac.
One thing I did do, was take the time to consolidate ALL of my data and information (decades worth) and clean it up with reality checks. Once done, I transferred this into a structured "folder" that I placed onto my Mac. It was kind of large, but over time I was able to go back and forth for my information.
Of course this was made easier because I bought the Office pack for the Mac and I was able to use my WORD and EXCEL documents as I got better at using PAGES and NUMBERS and SAFARI. Although I write all of my first draft stuff with Pages and then paste it into HubPages, I do my final Book development before submissions with WORD.
So, overall I am glad I made my transition and honestly, even though I looked longingly at those "Surface" and other such machines, are tempting, the annual obsolescence and my memories of the problems with Windows, keeps my happily using my Mac.
Thanks for the article,