Tips on switching from an Apple Mac to a Windows PC

When someone switches operating systems, it's typically from a Windows PC to a Mac. There's millions more Windows users after all, so it makes sense that the change would go in that direction by and large.

But the Mac’s market share has grown in the last few years and that means there's a very good chance one or two (or more) of you may just be ready to make the reverse move and go from a Mac to a Windows PC.

The reasons to make the switch are plentiful, and they are the same reasons that so many stay with the PC in the first place.

Price: Mac's are almost uniformly more expensive, by several hundred pounds, for the equivalent power you'd get in a PC. This also goes for buying hardware upgrades, add-ons and peripherals; the plethora of options for Windows is plentiful, and that competition keeps prices lower.

Software: The amount of software you can get for Windows is enormous compared to what you can buy or download for the Mac, giving you many more options and choices when it comes to getting things done.

Build your own: If you wanted to buy the individual pieces to make your own computer – even a laptop in limited cases – you can. Making a Mac is not quite as easy, though you could always try to make a Hackintosh, which is Mac OS running on a non-Apple-supported PC.

Games: As with software, you'll find far more games, and indeed the best games, are on the PC, not the Mac. (Though of course the PC doesn’t get all the titles the Xbox and PlayStation receive either – or sometimes there’s a long wait, as for example is the case with the latest episode of Grand Theft Auto. Incidentally, if you get an Xbox, it will also work very smoothly with your Windows PC).

Microsoft Office: Like it or not, Microsoft's productivity software is the best there is, the most popular, and very likely to be required knowledge in some way in your life. Using it on the PC is still the best way to learn it, know it, and live it.

The list could go on with many small differences, but suffice it to say: If you want to maximise compatibility and minimise costs, you may want to switch to a Windows computer. Okay, so now for some advice on actually making the leap.

Backup your data

To get started with your switch, you have to consider what's on your Mac. Most data files, from documents to videos, are supported on both platforms. The question is how best to move them from the Mac to your PC. It can be a pretty simple task depending on the method you choose; and it helps to know exactly what you want to move.

Networking the two computers is probably the fastest method, but it's not always easy to configure. Using a NAS (network attached storage) might go one better, since it provides the added bonus of data backup. At the very least, you can invest in a moderately roomy USB flash drive to sneaker-net the files from Mac to PC.

Online backup and synchronisation is another option, and you could use any one of many services here. One of our favourites is Dropbox, and it will sync between folders on multiple Windows and Mac OS systems, with an online backup storage in the middle. Check into MozyHome for just straight backup and restoration if you're not interested in the on-going sync option; but if you've got more than one computer (and who doesn't) the sync might just save you when catastrophe strikes a single system.

How to work Windows

Long-time Mac users might find the Windows way of doing things somewhat incomprehensible, though the same can be said about going the other way. Muscle memory can play a big part in routine computing, and switching around how you do things with a mouse and keyboard, no matter what's on screen, can be difficult. With enough practice however, you may just get the skills to handle using both operating systems without even thinking about what you're doing differently.

The Desktop and Libraries

Windows likes to help you organise files and always provides folders for Documents, Videos, Pictures, and Music. Sometimes what's in these folders is quickly associated with a program (like your music showing up in iTunes or Windows Media Player, for example). You can move the physical location of these Libraries on the drive, but clicking the Library alias icon in Windows Explorer (the equivalent of the Mac's Finder) will always get you there.

Installing programs

Many consider this to be the worst part of Windows, and it certainly differs from the Mac. Instead of taking a file you extract from a DMG image file and copying it to Applications (like on the Mac), most Windows apps require a full installation program to run, which copies files to the right place on the Windows PC's hard drive, plus it makes changes to the registry, the underlying database of all Windows options and settings. This can be a mess compared to how Mac OS handles programs, so you should regularly run a registry cleaner like CCleaner, and always use a proper full uninstall to get rid of a program. You can uninstall a program from its entry on the Control Panel (under Programs).

Closing windows and programs

On the Mac, clicking the red button with the X on the upper left of a window closes that window… but not the program. On Windows, if you click the X on the upper right, you close the window and (if it's the only one) the program. There are other minor differences, such as how you maximise and minimise Windows.

Get ready to right click

An important aspect of Windows is the contextual menu for getting to features that only work in that context. For example, right click a file's icon, and you'll get a list of programs that could open that file, plus other choices. On Macs, you can get to those menus, but they're not as prominent. In Windows, the right click is almost as ubiquitous as the left.

These tips should help you get started in the brave new world of Windows. For more help with getting off on the right foot with Microsoft's OS, see: 50 top tips and tweaks for Windows 8.

Good luck with it all!