Mac Learning Curve: Hurdles Moving from PC to Mac
Switching from PC to Mac doesn’t have to be a painful process as long as you know what you’re in for. Image: Ed Yourdon

So you’re considering moving from a PC to a Mac. Maybe you’d like to use both operating systems, or maybe you’re considering a permanent switch. The problem is, you’ve never used a Mac before, let alone the latest operating system: OS X Mountain Lion. Here are a few major differences between the two platforms. These are things to keep in mind as you make the transition.

The Touchpad Scrolls in Reverse

Modern Macs come with multitouch touchpads in lieu of any kind of touchscreen. These touchpads are designed to work like a tablet would; therefore, using two fingers to swipe downward on the touchpad causes the window to scroll upward. This takes some getting used to, and some converts from PC to Mac have gone so far as to reverse this direction in the system preferences.

Mac Learning Curve: Hurdles from Moving from the PC to the Mac
Change your trackpad’s scrolling from this screen.

There Are No Touchscreens

Strangely enough, though Apple loves touchscreens on its iPhones and iPads, no model of Mac is compatible with touchscreens. Instead, you use the multitouch touchpad as a sort of miniature touchscreen and navigate your Mac in much the same way.

There Are No Blu-ray Players

Because of the massive license fees and restrictive media players inherent with the Blu-ray format, Apple continues to not offer these drives as internal choices in any model of Mac. It’s possible to buy an external Blu-ray drive and find third-party software to play discs in the Mac environment, but this is a clunky, last-resort solution.

Mac Learning Curve: Hurdles from Moving from the PC to the Mac
This third-party software solution from MacGo, combined with an external drive, can play Blu-ray movies.

There’s a Good Chance It Won’t Have an Optical Drive at All

Many newer MacBooks, especially the MacBook Air, have foregone the optical drive altogether. They’re more or less unnecessary, as you can get OS updates and software directly over the Internet. Although you’ll occasionally need to boot from your Windows disc on a PC to fix some problem, these cases rarely come up on the Mac and can be fixed without needing an optical drive.

You Can’t Upgrade Your Mac

In general, Macs are not designed to be user-upgradeable. Instead, hardware upgrades or replacements are performed at an Apple Store, often for a fee. PCs, even laptops, can have RAM added to them and hard drives swapped out with just a few turns of of a screwdriver.

Apps Aren’t Cross-Compatible, But Documents Are

Though you can’t run a PC app on a Mac nor a Mac app on a PC without virtualization software, documents can move freely between the two. A Photoshop file created on a Mac will open just fine on a PC, for example. Also note that most popular software can be bought in PC or Mac versions, with the notable exception of most games.

The Way MacOS Works is Different from Windows

MacOS, being based on UNIX, can work very differently from Windows, which still has remnants of its old DOS-based structure. Here are a few of the highlights.

  1. When you open a terminal on a Mac, you enter UNIX commands to get around. When you open a Command Prompt in Windows, you have to enter DOS commands.
  2. Macs don’t have a Start Menu or Start Screen. Instead, you use the Finder, the Launchpad, and the Dock to get around the OS X file system.
  3. Installing a new app on your Mac involves launching a .DMG, or disk image of the app, which unpacks and installs itself from there. On the PC, the install file is usually a self-extracting archive instead.
  4. Macs boot very quickly, and go into and come out of Sleep Mode quickly, even with several startup apps. Even the fastest Windows machine can take minutes to boot fully, though adding a solid state drive (SSD) alleviates this problem.
Mac Learning Curve: Hurdles from Moving from the PC to the Mac
The Mac’s terminal app takes UNIX, rather than DOS, commands.

These are just the major differences between PCs and Macs. If you’re considering making the move, be aware that there will be a learning curve. You may miss some PC features, and you may discover Mac features that you didn’t know you were missing.

Beyond features, many choose Macs because they can be more aesthetically pleasing than PCs, because Macs integrate well with other Apple devices in the home, because of Mac-exclusive applications like Garage Band, or because of disenchantment with Microsoft in general. Whatever your reason for making the switch from a PC to a Mac, consider yourself armed with enough knowledge to make that decision for yourself.

About the Author

Steve Horton is the Manager and Director of Community and Social Media for ReviverSoft, a software company that focuses on helping people love their computer again.