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Switching Between Mac and Windows

Often one has to switch betwen platforms for work or sometimes when taking a class. This page is to show it is not that hard to do—there are many similarities between the Macintosh OS and the Windows OS.


Generally, there is very little, if any, difference between programs, other than some keyboard differences noted below.

One of the main differences in programs is that the Preference menu is usually under the Edit menu in Windows programs and under the program menu (the left-most) in the Macintosh. In some programs, the Keyboard Shortcuts menu is also located under the program menu.

Some Macintosh Adobe programs an Application Frame (under the Windows menu) that puts the entire program into a separate window/frame. In essence, this makes the program appear like Windows programs have for ages. I like this feature since it isolates the current program without showing all the "clutter" of other programs or Desktop files in the background. The first time you turn on the Application Frame, you might need to maximize the program, after that, it will stay maximized.

Microsoft Office 365 (16) is almost identical except for some high-end functions in Windows. Office for the Mac does not include Access (database) or Publisher. Also, Microsoft Visio and Project are not available for Mac. Alternate programs are available, including Filemaker database program, that is cross-platform.

Other differences with Office:

    • Visual Basic on Windows (more powerful than Mac macros)
    • Better SharePoint integration on Windows
    • Word
      • Better repair
      • Embed fonts
      • Draw (Digital Ink)
      • Document Inspector (backstage)
    • Excel
      • Built-in database connectivity
    • PowerPoint
      • Advanced animation triggers

Adobe Acrobat and Distiller are cross-platform, but the Windows version of Acrobat includes PDF Maker for Microsoft Office and the Acrobat print driver. The latest Macintosh version of Office does show an Acrobat ribbon in some Office programs, but the PDF conversion utility actually uploads a copy of the file to Adobe servers, which converts the file and copies it back down to the computer. This process could be a problem with sensitive material or in a high-security environment.


Whenever possible, use OpenType [OT] fonts; this eliminates any cross-platform issues. Adobe's OpenType fonts are easily identified by the sufix Pro (for Professional) or Std (for Standard).

It is also possible for the Macintosh to use Windows TrueType [TT] fonts. For example, if both systems have Microsoft Office installed, many "Microsoft" fonts are installed on both systems. However, often programs do not treat them as identical fonts and one has to substitute a font with the identical font.Luckily, one can remove the Mac version of Arial and copy over the Windows version. It will work perfectly and be can exact match between systems. This can be done for any Windows fonts one has legal license to. (You cannot move Mac TT fonts, including dFonts and Font Collections over to Windows.)

Type 1 [T1] fonts, aka PostScript fonts typically require one version for each platform. Even then, when moving documents between platforms, the fonts may not be exactly alike and type could reflow. Type 1 is an old, outdated format and should be replaced with the equivalent OpenType fonts

As mentioned, Windows systems cannot use Mac TT or T1 fonts, however, they are converted into a usable Windows format. Programs such as FontLab's TransType Pro (Mac or Windows versions available) can convert fonts from practically any format to another, but one must be careful of font license restrictions. Generally, it is better to replace the fonts with true OT fonts.


If using Adobe programs, native files formats (Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Captivate, etc.) are cross-platform. Microsoft Office, QuarkXPress, and FileMaker files are cross-platform. (Note: See font issues above.)

Other cross-platform formats include: PDF, TIFF, JPEG, and PNG. GIF are cross-platform, but should only be used for websites. EPS is an outdated format and should be avoided for new work.

It is critical for Mac users to include the file extension (.psd, .indd, .ai, .qxp, .tif, etc.) when saving files if you plan on sharing files with a Windows user. This is the default for most Mac programs, but if the user removes the extension when naming the file, the OS may not put it back on (as it does on the Windows OS).

OS Issues

Mouse Right-click

Generally, any multi-button mouse will work as long as it is USB.

Newer Macs have come with multi-button Apple mice (mouses?) for many years now, however the second button (called secondary click on Mac and right-click on Windows) may need to be activated in the Mouse system preferences.

If you have a very old, single-button mouse, you will need to hold down the Control key (on the Mac keyboard) to replicate the "right-click" of a mult-button mouse. Both the right-click on Windows and the Control click on the Mac are to access contextual menus.

Major Keyboard changes

The equivalent of the Control key in Windows is the Command key (sometimes known as the Apple key) in Mac. (As mentioned, the only major use for the Control key on the Mac is to replicate the contextual menu.)

The equivalent of the Alt key in Windows is the Option key on the Mac. (In fact, most Macs add a smaller "alt" label on the Option key.)

For example, a keyboard command of Control-Alt-Shift-S on Windows would be Command-Option-Shift-S on the Mac.

The Command and Control keys are in different positions on the keyboard; training your fingers to use the proper key is probably the hardest thing about going between platforms. (Technically, one can use a Windows keyboard on a Mac and vice versa, as long as it is USB. Keys are mapped by position on the keyboard, not the lable of the key.)

The Windows keyboard Enter key is labeled Return on the Mac. I think the Mac's labeling is better since the "return" key and the numeric Enter key do different things in some programs.

In Windows' favor, it has the Backspace key and the (forward) Delete key. Unfortunately, the Mac keyboard labels both as Delete.

On a Windows keyboard, the upper left corner on the numberic keypad is the number lock; on Mac keyboards, it is the Clear button.

On the Mac, the Caps Lock key is a true caps lock; on Windows, it is more of a "caps toggle" if you hold down the Shift key with Caps Lock on.

Navigation issues

The Finder on the Mac is basically the same as the Desktop on Windows. On the Mac, the Finder is usually called the Desktop too. When opening and saving a file, the Desktop shortcut is listed on the left side of the dialog box on both platforms.

The Task Bar on Windows 7 is similar to the Dock on Mac. On both platforms, you can right-click and keep the program on the Dock/Task Bar when you close the program.

The equivalent of "My Documents" on Windows is "Documents" on the Mac.

On Windows, drives always have drive letters, such as "C:"; on the Mac, they do not. In both OS', the drives can be named. This could have an impact when working off of a server. Keep the files together in a single project folder.

Other Differences

On Windows, the Minimize, Maximize, and Close boxes are in the upper-right corner of a window; on a Mac, they are in the upper-left corner and represented by theClose, Minimize, and Maximize buttons. (Adobe programs have the close box for panels on the right for both platforms.)

On Windows, CDs and DVDs can be ejected by pressing the drive's eject button (as long as the disc is not being actively used); on the Mac, the disc must be ejected from the Finder first —usually by pressing the Eject button.

On Windows, software is in the Programs Files folder; on the Mac, they are in the Applications folder. If you are using Windows 64-bit, you will have a Programs Files folder for 64-bit programs and Programs Files (x86) for 32-bit programs.

On Windows, it is the Recycle Bin; on the Mac, the Trash Can.

On Windows, a Shortcut points to a file, folder, or program; on the Mac, they are called Alias.

On Windows, one used Control Panels; on the Mac, one used the System Preferences (although they used to be called Control Panels prior to OS X)

Useful Utilities

Paragon Software makes two useful utilities, one for the Mac and one for Windows. HTS+ for Windows lets Windows systems read/write to Mac formated drives; NTFS for Mac OS X lets Mac systems read/write to the NTFS drives (normally, Macs can only read that format).

The ability to pin applications to the Task Bar is a nice addition (and copy of the Mac's Dock), but you can't place a folder there—especially one with multiple shortcuts to programs. Windows does let you pin secondary programs to the Start menu too.

Windows that the ability to "snap" windows to the sides and top of the monitor to resize them half-screen to full-screen respectively. The Mac does have a similar ability—but it is not as full featured. One could install SizeUp or similar utility to get more features.