So, after all these years, you’ve decided to leave the familiar Windows PC behind and switch to the Mac. Whether it be corporate migration, fear and annoyance with Windows 8/ditching Windows XP (at last), or just the need for a change, the process isn’t as drastic as it used to be. Let’s break it down: After you get the new Mac, you have three basic steps to make it feel like home.
Step 1: Move Your Stuff
You can physically schlep your files from the PC to Mac in a number of ways, including copying folders and files to an external hard drive for a SneakerNet transfer, or moving them over a network. But Apple, wanting to make PC refugees as happy as possible, has its own free Windows Migration Assistant program (shown below) and detailed instructions for using it on its site. The Assistant moves basic stuff like contacts, calendar info, mail accounts, browser bookmarks and more — but not Windows programs. (These won’t run on OS X anyway unless you get fancy, as we’ll discuss in a bit.)
You can also use the Migration Assistant to move files and folders. Common file formats, like JPG photo files, text files and unprotected MP3 audio files work well on both platforms. The Assistant can even put your pictures into the free iPhoto program that comes with the Mac, but if you prefer other photo-editing and organizer programs like Google’s Picasa or Adobe Photoshop Elements, there are OS X versions to download or buy.
Likewise, if you need Microsoft Office, you can either buy the Mac version, use Office 365 or get one of the various other programs out there that can open and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. Apple’s iWork productivity suite is now free with every new Mac and can handle a lot of Office chores.
Apple’s iTunes program can’t plan Windows Audio Media files, but iTunes can convert unrestricted WMA files to iTunes-friendly formats. If you were using iTunes for Windows, you can transfer all your ripped and purchased iTunes content between computers.
Many apps and services are cross-platform — Dropbox, Amazon Cloud Drive and Amazon’s Kindle Reader, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive and so on. You can download new versions from the sites themselves. The Mac App Store may also have useful software.
The bummer for most people is that PC games will not work on the Mac and the Mac has never quite caught up with Windows in that area. (Some say Macs are getting better for games, though, and Steam might help ease the pain of PC-game withdrawal.)
Step 2: Get to Know Mac OS X
Let’s face it, over the years, both Windows and OS X have gotten similar: Taskbar/Dock, Programs/Applications folder, Recycle Bin/Trash Can — navigating the desktop is not that hard to do anymore between the two systems. Mac keyboard shortcuts may differ, as well as the placement of desktop icons, but these are often minor things to relearn.
Apple’s site has tons of basic info about getting used to Mac OS X and even an “On Windows, I used to…” page. Many people around the Web have posted their personal tales of switching from PC to Mac. Resources abound online, so read up.
Step 3: Fine-Tuning, Workarounds and … Windows on a Mac?
Once you get your stuff moved over and become somewhat used to navigating the Mac interface, you’ll probably find some things you need to tweak. You may also find you need some programs that just aren’t available for the Mac.
As for the tweaking, the Mac OS comes with a ton of printer drivers already installed, but you may need to snag more obscure ones or utility software from the manufacturer’s site. Many new Macs don’t include disc drives or Ethernet jacks anymore, so if you need these, external add-ons are available. Of course, you’ll want to get a backup drive for your system, but you get free backup software with Mac OS X called Time Machine.
If there are some Windows programs you still need to use, you have options. Programs like Citrix will let you tap into some Windows servers and systems virtually from your Mac. Apple’s free Boot Camp software (below) basically lets you partition your Mac’s drive and carve out space to install a copy of Windows side-by-side on the same machine. Virtualization software like the $80 Parallels Desktop can also run Windows on your Mac, but without all that partitioning business. Note that you do have to buy the copy of Windows, however. (Microsoft software sold separately. Void where prohibited. Your mileage may vary.)
After years of Windows, it may take a few weeks to get used to OS X — especially if you’ve never used a Mac, but go on in and get comfortable. To help you relax, check out these OS X Easter Eggs left by kindly Apple software engineers. You can play a round of Tetris, see the legendary Mrs. Field’s cookie recipe — and if you miss it from Windows — watch the ASCII version of Star Wars over a Telnet connection in the Mac’s Terminal window. Feels like home already now, doesn’t it? And if it doesn’t…well, Windows 9 is due out next year!