Windows PC User Switching to an Apple Mac: What I Learned
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 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.
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.
Other Useful Mac Features
In the remainder of this article, I'll discuss some useful features that are unique to Apple.
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.
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.
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.
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
Questions & Answers
How does one use Siri and dictation on the Mac Mini when it has no built-in microphone?
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, or with a mic that attaches to a USB port. The Mac will recognize either input.Helpful 1
© 2015 Glenn Stok