Going From Windows to Mac
A majority of professional developers use Windows PC’s with a few installing Linux on their PC. Apple computers while at one point the highlight of the business world have for many years been relegated to artists, creatives, and hobbyists. Macs didn’t play well with other operating systems and were hard to use if you weren’t used to them. However, with OS X Apple opened up to working with other operating systems allowing them be used in more than a creative atmosphere.
A common myth about Macs that is still prevalent is that they are difficult to learn and even more so to move from working on Windows. While they may be cost prohibitive for some, many people do not want to switch to a Mac because of the suspected down time that the switch would cause. This may have been true a few years ago, there are several ways to easily move from a PC to a Mac with little interruption to your work flow.
BJ recently set up his Mac Mini and moved all of his creative and podcasting files and software from his Windows PC to his new Mac. Will has been waiting on BJ to get around to this so BJ can work out the kinks before getting a Mac Mini.
This is not a how to guide for switching over from a Windows PC to a Mac. It is designed to give you helpful information for further research and share some of the things learned in the process of making the transition. Your situation may be different as you will have to install the software and transfer the files you are using which may be quite different. Use this as a guide to help you make the decision to switch to a Mac or for when you do make the transition.
Benefits of Switching to Mac
You almost never have to shut down or restart them. Windows machines need to be restarted regularly to clear the cache and just allow them to work properly. This isn’t needed for Macs, they can be left on for months or even years at a time.
If you can’t find the mouse pointer just rapidly move the mouse and it gets big. So easy to find, even with multiple screens. If you have an iPhone or iPad you can connect it to your Mac and access your messages through your Mac. This is convenient since you can get your messages, email, etc all in one place without having to use multiple devices.
Macs are more intuitive when it comes to needed drivers meaning that you don’t have to worry about having the wrong one or the wrong version of the driver. It’s rare that you will need to install a driver because Apple has software built into it’s hardware. While they are more expensive to purchase, they are build to last from better parts. They also retain their value and people are always willing to buy used Macs.
First off, you’re not going to be transfering internal components between machines. This isn’t like building a new PC where you can reuse some parts. While it is possible to put the macOS on the right PC build, hackintoshing is not suggested. When deciding on which Mac to purchase, you want to take into consideration Apple’s M1 chip. While at first not many apps worked with it that is changing. While you can still get some new Macs with Intel, that will likely be going away. There are rumors that Apple is purposefully slowing the Intel machines with more recent updates, but that is not substantiated.
Peripheral connections are where you’ll need to do some research to determine what you will be reusing and what you will need to to purchase or update. Most things are compatible with both Mac and PC, but if you have any specialized equipment such as for recording a podcast or any other type of specialty work you may do you’ll want to make sure you get the drivers for your Mac.
Macs in general have fewer ports so you’ll not be able to connect as many things directly to the Mac. You may need a USB hub or the dreaded dongles to connect to the Mac. If you are going all out and getting a Mac Pro you won’t have to worry about connections as it comes with 2 USB 3 and 6 Thunderbold (USB-C) ports. Also, of all the Macs the Mac Pro is the only one that is customizable after you purchase it. The Macbook Pro has 4 Thunderbolt (USB-C) ports, two on each side. You’ll need to get a dongle to connect and external monitor (up to two) and anything via USB-A. The Mac Mini, depending on your model, has both USB-A and Thunderbolt as well as an HDMI. You can connect a second monitor through one of the Thunderbolt ports.
Almost all of the software you will be using has a Mac version, web based software especially. Even Microsoft products like Office and Teams are on macOS. Industry specific apps that are not web based or more specialized ones created by smaller teams may not have a Mac version if they are designed for Windows specifically. For those without a Mac alternative there are a few options including using Wine, Boot Camp, a Virtual Windows Machine.
Wine is an open source application that allows you to run Windows apps on other operating systems. Since most apps are on Mac Wine is typically used on Linux but can be used for Windows applications that do not have a Mac counterpart. The benefit of Wine is you don’t have to have Windows running or even a Windows license.
Boot Camp is a free Mac utility that lets you run Windows side-by-side with the macOS. You don’t have to have a Window’s license with Windows 10 so long as you don’t want to activate it. It also isolates your macOS from anything that happens on the Windows side. Note that there are other apps that allow you to do this too, but this is a macOS utility.
Virtual Machines allow you to use the macOS drivers and services only using what you need from the Windows side. With VMs you can have several different set ups and spin up the one that you want without having to make changes to others. There are a couple of options for how to download apps on your new Mac. You can go to the website and download the Mac version of the application or you can go to the app store to download it.
User Interface Differences
One of the biggest differences you’ll notice is the menu bar. Instead of being at the top of the app’s window it is at the top of the screen and changes based on the app in focus. On the right side of the menu bar is the macOS version of the system tray. This can get cluttered so you’ll want to add an app to manage it when it gets overwhelming.
At the bottom or side of the screen you’ll find the macOS Dock which serves the same function as the taskbar in Windows with your running apps. The Dock is divided into 3 sections: one for “docked” apps and folders; one for open apps that aren’t “docked”; and one for folders, minimized windows, and Trash. One difference is that you only see the Dock on one screen, you can move it to other screens and it will not show up if an app is in full screen mode.
Instead of a search bar in the Dock, macOS has Spotlight which can be accessed using the hotkeys CMD + Spacebar. Not only can you search apps and the internet but it uses natural language searches such as “Photos I edited last week”.
System Preferences replaces the control panel and Windows which is either overly dumbed down or crazy complicated it is actually intuitively organized. Finally the Activity Monitor is how you can check in on system usage and close processes that have crashed (highlighted in red).
Transfering Data Between Machines
The majority of files created in Windows are readable in macOS. You will need to have the correct application to open it like MS Word for .doc files. While most files will be accessable on the Mac, some that were created with much older versions of Windows applications may need to be updated before they can be opened in macOS.
Apple has a Windows Migration Assistant that will move email, contacts, calendars, photos, media, system settings, background images, browser bookmarks, top-level folders, and non-system and program files. Use this if you want to copy everything from your PC over to your Mac, otherwise you can use an external drive to transfer the files you want and manually set up your Mac.
Windows uses NTFS for formatting external drives which is from Windows NT. While macOS can read NTFS files, it cannot natively write to a drive formatted for NTFS. You can reformat the files and drive to FAT32, but there is some data loss because of the way FAT32 (MS-DOS) is stored. For text files this may not be a problem, however for things like audio where you cannot tolerate as much loss it is not recomended.
Another option is to copy the files to the Mac which will convert them to APFS then reformat the drive and put them back on there. This works if there are not too many files and you will not need to transfer them back to a Windows machine. APFS can be access on Windows with 3rd party software. The easiest option of you are sharing a drive between a Windows machine and a Mac is to install an NTFS driver on the macOS. This will require you to change the security settings on the Mac.
Things to watch out for when switching.
Watch out for dates in files, especially if calculations are based on them. The macOS and Windows handle date calculations differently. For example, the same Excel files will be different because of different base date calculations.
The app store may not be the best place if you are looking for a free trial and you may not find open source software on there. Keyboard shortcuts will be confusing at first. For the most part CMD replaces Ctrl, however in some apps, especially ones made by Microsoft, they both work.
If you are the first person in your office to switch over to Mac it may be difficult to find support or help. Thankfully there are a lot of online communities. You can check out our Slack if you can’t find anyone to ask about a question.
Tricks of the Trade
There is no dumpster fire worth cooking marshmallows on.