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14 For the new Mac user

If you are a Windows user who is interested in joining the wonderful world of the Mac, this entry is for you. Below are a few comparisons between the two which you may find helpful in making your decision. Please post specific questions to the All Things Macintosh forum.

Data and Media Formats:The first thing most people are concerned about is data. Will I lose my files? My invoices? E-mails? The answer, simply, is no. For nearly every data file one can create on a PC using Windows, there is a counterpart on the Mac that can read it. The most obvious example is in Office from Microsoft. All data formats used in the MS Office suits for Windows are compatible with the Office suite on the Mac. The exception is Access databases, for which there is no Mac equivalent. However, ppt, doc, rtf, xlt, xls, pps and most others are 100% supported.

Next you might be concerned about graphics and imaging files. Here, you will find your life is probably a little easier on the Mac. Generally, most graphics formats are supported on a Mac. Gif, jpg and jpeg, bmp et. al. are all supported and arguably easier to manipulate on a Macintosh. This is an opinion based experience, though, so this entry will not seek to make this point any clearer.

Media formats, including AVI, MOV, MPEG, etc. are also supported, though AVIs are more difficult here than most. The Windows codec used to encode AVIs played on a PC is not compatible with the Macintosh and thus playing AVIs required a (free) DivX player and Windows Media Player 9 (also free) to make the conversion. From my experience, 95% of all AVIs created on PCs can be viewed on Macs using this program combination. Other media formats are fully supported either by Quicktime, Windows Media Player, or Real Player, all of which exist in full version for the Mac. See the appropriate section of the FAQ for more information on this subject.

[Ed. note: There is a new (Fall '02) product called Move2Mac which makes it very easy to transfer existing data files on a PC to a Mac running 10.2 (Jaguar) or later.]

Many people are intimidated by the thought of switching to Macintosh by what they have heard regarding applications. It is no secret that Windows commands the market on available software, and this fact is unsettling when you are contemplating moving away from the plethora of apps available. I will break this down by covering a few categories of commonly used and mostly internet related applications by comparing the Windows versions to certain Macintosh counterparts.

Browsers: Internet Explorer is available for the Macintosh platform (5.2 in MacOS 9.x, and 5.2 in OS X). Though the Mac versions differ slightly from their PC counterparts, and indeed from each other in minor ways, both are functional browsers that work in almost every circumstance required by surfing. Apple Flash and shockwave are fully supported, as is FTP access. Telnet access through the browser itself is not supported, but a great many telnet applications exist for the Macintosh, and most are freeware. OS X includes telnet support native.

In addition, if you are interested in other browsers, Netscape and Opera, OmniWeb and iCab and Mozilla plus others from Sun are also fully supported in Mac OS. Apple has also created its own browser, Safari, which ships free with OS X.
IRC: Most Windows users who use IRC, or Internet Relay Chat, are familiar with mIRC, the most popular shareware application for the PC dealing with the IRC. While there are indeed several IRC clients available for the Macintosh, I find that Snak far surpasses mIRC in stability and ease of use. There are also common IRC scripts available for Snak for free download, and the program itself is shareware. For the others, I have used only a few of them and never for long enough to give a credible review, but sites like Version Tracker or TuCows maintain complete lists available for download.

Newsgroups: I am a fan of the Usenet, or newsgroups. I was an avid follower of it on my PC and have continued to be on the Mac. Applications such as MT-NewsWatcher or Entourage (Office 2004 component for Macintosh only) work quite well for following newsgroups, but neither measures up to the functionality of Forte Agent for Windows. This is one area where the Macintosh is not up to speed with the PC, but only the user can determine the importance of this.

Gaming: A huge concern for many, rest assured that most games available for the PC have been ported to the Mac, and those that have not are usually ported quickly. This statement does not apply to smaller DOS-based shareware or freeware games, unfortunately. However, major releases from large vendors, i.e. Unreal Tournament, Quake (all versions), Deus-Ex, Rune, Rogue Spear, The SIMS, Oni, Myst, Riven, Castle Wolfenstein, etc. etc. have all been ported successfully - check here for the most current titles. Straight comparisons between the Macintosh and Windows versions are sometimes available on the websites associated with the individual products, but you are most likely to find this information out only by playing the game in question on both platforms. Unfortunately, my experience with most of these titles is limited to one platform or the other so a fair comparison is not something I am prepared to do.

One thing it is important to note with regard to gaming is the absence of voice communications on the Macintosh. Roger Wilco and iVisit are both Macintosh supported applications which support VoIP for free, but neither is entirely usable nor as functional as the Windows counterparts. Look for this situation to change soon, hopefully, but the immediate future of voice communication for gaming on the Macintosh platform is uncertain as of this writing.

Graphics: It is a long standing tradition among professionals that most prefer to edit their 3D animations or their Photoshop picts on Apple Computers. This is by no means true for everyone, but is the norm to my experience in this profession. However, while the Macintosh support for these products is top of the line (Photoshop was created for the Mac and later ported to PCs), user experience and familiarity plays a large role in this decision. Whether or not your art will look better because you created it on a Macintosh or a PC is a subjective principle and not within the scope of this comparison to answer. Suffice it to say that graphics and 3D apps are supported on the Mac, in most cases, exactly as they are on the PC. From my experience, the controls (in Photoshop and Illustrator) are incredibly similar as well.

Editing (video or audio): This topic will call the name AVID to the minds of many people, being the most popular commercial / pro-sumer video editing suite on the market. Apple offers a counterpart to the AVID suites with Final Cut Pro, and Final Cut Pro2. I have used and am familiar with two of the AVID suites, but my experience with Final Cut Pro is limited, so I can offer no comparison between the two. I do, however, know many professionals that use both. Again, this is a subjective experience and I recommend you try before you buy.

For consumer editing purposes, Apple offers (free) iMovie, a very capable audio / video editing package with direct Quicktime support. A very usable, user-friendly program, iMovie can be used to import video or audio from analog (requires additional components) or digital (native) sources through the included FireWire bus. I personally have used iMovie to do limited professional editing and seen remarkable results. With the inclusion of a unit called the Hollywood DV Bridge, one can transfer analog formats to the Mac, edit them, and transfer them back to analog or to MPEG-based CDs for distribution or performance. The quality of these reproductions is extraordinary, but is obviously related to the quality of your source. A very, very useful application.

Audio: In straight comparisons, iTunes for the Macintosh is an easy winner. Many Windows users will be familiar with WinAmp or Windows Media Player for this function, but iTunes serves to easily best them both, in my opinion. This compact, free application can perform the WinAmp style crossfades with the ease of the Windows Media Player playlist combined. Also offered are the GeForce style visuals incorporated into WinAmp, plus the capability to rip and burn Audio CDs natively. Another very useful offering from Apple.

Hardware: Another unsettling factor many Windows users see is the hardware issue. For an individual used to the open-format "White Box" computers, switching to a Macintosh system where most hardware is not user-upgradable can be daunting. There are, however, advantages.

Motherboard / processor combinations from Apple, while not upgradable themselves (upgrade cards are available), are optimized for one another to assure maximum flow through the pipeline. This factor serves to increase the overall speed of your system and assure that you use the bus speed you are capable of attaining. Also to be noted is that the Apple boards and chips are quality products which lends itself well to confidence in what you buy.

Video cards tend to favor PCs, though the newest cards will usually be available in some form or other for the Mac directly after their PC counterparts are released. In the case of nVidia's GeForce3, the Macintosh version of the card was even released first. Generally, though, the Mac boards are easier to use and exhibit far fewer problems than their PC cousins, from my experience.

Audio cards exist for the Mac, but not in anything like the style or amount as for the PC. Most newer model Macs include digital audio boards which are quite sufficient to handle the needs of most users. For those desiring something more, Creative Labs offers the SB Live! for Macintosh, though I have no personal experience with this card.

Hard drives, RAM, external devices and portables are available in the same quantities for both platforms. Many people tend to overlook this fact, but it is quite true. Older devices may not be compatible with the Macintosh platform, but most newer ones are. Very few hardware vendors in this category make brand specific hardware, but it is still a good idea to look for the Apple Finder logo to be certain that your purchase is supported.

Operating Systems: We all know this line. Windows 95/98/ME/NT3.5/NT4/2000/XP or MacOS 8/8.1/8.6/9/9.0.4/9.1/9.2.1/X/X.1./Jaguar/Panther I am largely unfamiliar with Mac systems before 9.1, but my experience with Windows Oses is extensive. I will attempt, being fair, to compare and contrast the two as I see it from a general use perspective.

Features aside, any Windows distribution will do what you want it to do. The same is true for any Mac operating system. Comparing the two is very difficult, as user experience / preference plays the largest role here. Nonetheless, these are some key factors I have noticed between them.

Macintosh OS 9.1, while not the best manager, hands down managed virtual memory better than Windows 95/98/ME ever could. By contrast, a computer running 9.1 will crash easier than one running any fo the 95/98/ME trio, but not as frequently in my mind. Also, crashes are easier to recover from on a Mac, though the potential for real devastation to your system is just as possible as it is on Windows.

Due to the free / shareware nature of applications, strange conflicts are more likely to crop up on Windows than on a Mac. Most of the interface, which often includes installing software, is drag and drop on a Mac whereas Windows must write and rewrite to the registry. In short, if you install some problematic app on Windows, it will be much harder to get rid of it than it is on a Mac, where all you typically need to do is drag the offending folder to the trash and uncheck associated extensions.

Now lets compare the NTs (being NT4, 2000, and XP) to X, as it is unfair to compare any of these with any of the former Oses.

Application wise, the NT systems win. No questions. OS X is still very new as of this writing, and no matter how many thousands of apps may exist for it now, chances are that the one killer app you want or that great game you love are not available yet for this powerhouse OS.

As far as memory shells go, this argument could go on all day between professionals with much more time than I have to debate the issue. From a pure usage standpoint, architecture aside, both systems are nearly impossible to crash, even if you set out to do so. Applications run separate and apart from core memory resources and are thus unable to impact the system itself no matter what strangeness the app decides to pull.

As for comparing the UNIX core of OS X to NT, I leave that to larger minds than mine. Obviously, anyone can see that having a UNIX (BSD actually, based on NeXTStep) subsystem opens a whole new world of possibilities to the platform, but many of these remain unexplored as of this writing.

This is a very basic description of the differences between the two Systems. One should be certain to remember that functionality is based entirely on what one intends to do with the machine. In short, both are capable systems with enough options and features available to sate the needs of any technology junkie.

Comparing interfaces or uses is moot, as these experiences are entirely opinion based. I have noticed that most people who sit down and use the Apple platform tend to enjoy it more than Windows, but this is just my experience. For myself, I am certainly very happy with my decision to switch. I highly recommend it to any computer user wishing to broaden his or her horizon by trying something new. The Macintosh, far from the dead weight it is considered by many in the industry, is indeed a robust, viable alternative replete with features and functions to both enhance and ease the life of its user. I hope this document can help in the decision making process for those who are curious about the ultimate ends of switching Systems.

Ed. note: The O'Reilly site has a good set of articles that address aspects of this topic. And you might also want to read A Month with a Mac: A Die-Hard PC User's Perspective.

by jandz See Profile edited by JJ See Profile
last modified: 2005-01-24 08:59:59

Well-respected author David Pogue has written a book specifically on that topic:

Switching to the Mac: The Missing Manual

by JJ See Profile
last modified: 2005-01-18 00:17:04

This was sent to me via the weekly Circuits e-mail:

Tips for Crossing Platforms

Whether it's Mac OS X, Windows XP, or Billy Bob's System-Software Special, every operating system has pretty much the same job description. It must somehow represent your files and programs so that you can organize them; permit adjustments to things like your speaker and mouse; interact with external gear like printers, cameras, and scanners; and so on.

Truth is, you could summarize the chief difference between the two operating systems in, say, a single e-mail column -- like this one. Clip, save and pass along to your platform-crossing friends, no matter which way they're switching:

1. A Windows mouse has two buttons. You use the left one for selecting things, and the right one for making shortcut menus appear.

An Apple mouse, on the other hand, has only one button, which you use to click and select things. To simulate a right mouse button click (that is, to open shortcut menus), you hold down the Control key as you click things. (And if that's too much effort, cheap two-button Windows mice work fine on the Mac.)

2. On the Macintosh, there's only one menu bar. It's always at the top of the screen. In Windows, a separate menu bar appears at the top of every window.

3. In Mac OS X, the "home base" program -- the one that displays the icons of all your folders and files -- is called the Finder. In Windows, it's often called Windows Explorer.

4. The Command key (bearing the Apple logo) on the Mac does many of the same things as the Ctrl key in Windows. So you press Ctrl-S to save a file in Windows, Command-S to save on a Mac.

Similarly, the functions of the Windows Alt key are often assumed by the Mac's Option key. For example, in Microsoft Word, the keyboard shortcut for the Split Document Window command is Alt-Ctrl-S in Windows, but Option-Command-T on the Macintosh.

5. In Windows, you switch from one open program to another by clicking buttons on the taskbar. In Mac OS X, the equivalent entity is the Dock, a tiny row of photorealistic icons at the bottom or side of the screen. A key difference: On the Mac, the Dock also offers quick access to the icons of things that aren't currently open, rather like the Windows Start menu.

6. Here's a time-saving keystroke: You can cycle through your open programs by pressing what amounts to the same keystroke in Mac OS X and Windows: Alt-Tab in Windows, Command-Tab on the Mac.

7. Most Windows fans refer to the row of tiny status icons at the lower-right corner of the screen as the ?tray.? On the Mac, these so-called ?menulets,? or Menu Extras, appear at the upper-right corner of the screen. Either way, the little icons are both status indicators and pop-up menus (for adjusting your speaker volume, screen resolution, and so on).

8. Whereas Windows is designed to show the names (letters) and icons for your disk *drives,* the Mac shows you the names and icons of your *disks.* You'll never see an icon for an empty drive, as in Windows. As soon as you insert, say, a CD, you see its name and icon appear on the Macintosh screen. In Windows, you open the My Computer icon to see it.

9. On the Mac, you never eject a disk by pressing a button on the disk drive itself, as you do in Windows. Instead, you press the Eject key on the keyboard or use the Eject menu command.

10. There are a few Windows/Mac terminology differences, too:

Program Files = Applications folder
My Documents = Home folder
My Pictures = Pictures folder
WINDOWS or WINNT folder = System folder
upper-right Close box on a window = upper-left Close button
Control Panel = System Preferences
Properties = Get Info
Recycle Bin = Trash
Search command = Find command
shortcut menus = contextual menus
shortcuts = aliases.

Those aren't the only differences, of course. In fact, there are enough profound design philosophy differences between Microsoft and Apple to provide fodder for a nation of zealots on both sides. But if your mission is to set aside the emotion and, for whatever reason, to cross the chasm from one platform to the other, may these pointers make those first steps easier.

by tmpchaos See Profile edited by JJ See Profile
last modified: 2005-01-18 00:16:30

You could wade through all the documentation at the Apple Developer website, or you can get this book:

Mac OS X Panther for Unix Geeks

A sample chapter on MySQL and PostgreSQL is available here

by JJ See Profile
last modified: 2005-03-15 08:48:03

    Apple has created a cheat sheet that shows how things that were done in OS 9 are now done in OS X.

by JJ See Profile
last modified: 2005-01-20 09:58:23

    TidBITS has a pdf guide available for $5 that should help make the decision easier and more informed:

    Take Control of Buying a Mac

    Also see: /faq/11589

by JJ See Profile
last modified: 2005-01-18 09:45:10

You can use any USB-based keyboard on a Mac1. Nearly all keyboards sold these days are USB, but if yours is PS/2 then it won't plug directly into the Mac, since they don't have PS/2 ports.

You can buy a simple adapter to use PS/2 peripherals on a Mac (like this inexpensive one from Newegg).

Here are some key mappings for how the special PC keyboard keys translate into special Apple keys:
Print ScreenF13
Scroll LockF14
Note: The Command (or "cmd") key is identified on the Apple keyboard by the cloverleaf (sometimes called the "splat" key, looks like or ).

You might also want to have a look at's hints for sharing a keyboard and monitor.

1While any USB keyboard will function on Mac in terms of basic usage, a given keyboard (e.g. from Logitech or Microsoft) might require driver software from the keyboard's manufacturer to enable the use of special media keys, or other features that go beyond basic usage, so check before you buy. This caveat also applies to mice.

by rjackson See Profile edited by JJ See Profile
last modified: 2005-01-23 16:59:47

If you're new to the Mac you may not be familiar with some of the special keys on the keyboard. You also may be wondering about some of the common shortcut key combos in Mac OS X.

First we'll look at the keys on the keyboard. The four main modifier keys are the Apple key, the Option key, Control, and Shift.

The Command key is characterized on the key itself by the Apple logo () and the "splat" image (). It's also represented in the menu by the image. It is basically the equivalent of the control or alt key in Windows. For instance, +C is used for copy, +V is used for paste, etc.

Option is next to the command key and it's also known as the "alt" key. It too is used in keyboard shortcuts, and it's represented in the menu with the symbol. Option is used most of the time in coordination with the command key for alternate key combos.

Control is characterized by . It too is used in some shortcut key combos.

The Shift key looks like in the menu.

A note for PowerBooks and iBooks: Portable Macs include an extra key known as the Function key, abbreviated fn. It's found on the lower left of the keyboard, and it serves to enable some of the extra keys found on the standard extended Apple keyboards.

The basic keyboard combos are the same for the Mac as they are in Windows. For instance, if you're used to using Alt+Tab to switch between windows, +Tab will switch between open applications in OS X. Note: This switches between each application. To switch between each window in an application, use +`.

This page lists some of the common Mac OS keyboard combos, as well as their Windows equivalents.

If you want to see a list of all the OS X keyboard shortcuts, see this FAQ article.

by rjackson See Profile edited by JJ See Profile
last modified: 2005-01-26 09:56:03

Here's a guick key to them:

by tmpchaos See Profile

Spotted by dwanzer See Profile, over at Ars Technica. A useful introduction, especially the hints on printing and networking.

Also, spotted here by atesserot See Profile:

Another good, quick read is 10 Things Every New Mac Owner Should Know, spotted on

Spotted here by sfogliatelle See Profile is another guide, targeted especially to MS Office/Entourage users.

More from sfogliatelle See Profile:
While searching for some in-depth sites for help/suggestions on Spotlight I came across these two, which I found to be most helpful: Peachpit on Spotlight and Switch To A Mac on Spotlight.
TUAW (The Unofficial Apple Weblog) has a their own, very comprehensive version of "Mac 101", called, appropriately, Mac 101. The address is: » The version you're likely to see as of this writing will include many of the new Snow Leopard (OSX 10.6) hints, tip and tricks.

by tmpchaos See Profile
last modified: 2009-09-04 10:50:03

by JJ See Profile edited by tmpchaos See Profile
last modified: 2007-12-27 22:04:17