If you've just bought your first Mac and you're switching from a Windows PC, congratulations! Welcome to the fold. You're anxious to use your Mac, but you've amassed years of data on that PC. Switching platforms doesn't mean starting over: You can still use those old files. Apple makes it easy with a free utility called Migration Assistant. Here's how it works.

Migration Assistant is a utility Apple includes in the Utilities folder of every Mac. You'll see it when you first start up your Mac, when your Mac asks you if you want to transfer data over from another Mac, a Time Machine backup, or a PC. Apple makes the app freely available for download for transferring to macOS Sierra from Windows and OS X from Windows

Migration Assistant will help you transfer files from a PC running Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, or Windows 10 operating systems. The Mac and the PC both have to be running Migration Assistant.

Both should be on the same network, in order to find each other. The data migration may take several hours depending on what's being transferred and what means are used: Wi-Fi is slower, a wired Ethernet connection is faster. But one way or the other, your patience will be rewarded.

What actual data gets transferred will depend on which version of Windows you're using, and what programs created your data. Bookmarks from Internet Explorer and Firefox will be brought into Safari, for example. iTunes content and image files should make it over as well. System settings will get pulled over. You'll be able to specify what other files you'd like to bring over, too.

Email, contacts, and calendar information are where it gets a bit tricky. The bottom line is that Migration Assistant will pull over your email account information, and if you're using Microsoft Outlook, it should pull over your email messages, your contacts, and your calendars. Other programs may vary. Apple has posted a detailed chart of what gets migrated over to help you understand.

How to migrate your data from your PC to your Mac

First, connect your Mac to your PC either through Ethernet, or by making sure both computers are on the same local Wi-Fi network.

On your new Mac:

  1. Launch a Finder window.
  2. Click on Applications in the sidebar.
  3. Double-click or control-click on the Utilities folder.
  4. Click on Migration Assistant.
  5. Click Continue.
  6. Click From a PC. when prompted to select how you want to transfer your information.
  7. Click Continue.

On your PC:

  1. Make sure you've downloaded and installed Migration Assistant on your PC.
  2. Launch Migration Assistant on your PC.

    • Launching Migration Assistant on the PC is a one-way trip: It's only designed to transfer data from your PC to a new Mac. After launching it, Migration Assistant for Windows will try to connect to its Mac counterpart. A security code will display on the screen.
  3. Confirm that the code on your PC is the same on your Mac.

  4. Select the files, folders, and settings you want to transfer from your PC to your Mac.
  5. Click continue.

Obviously, there are other ways to move files between Macs and PCs. Thumb drives will work on both machines, so you can manually transfer whatever files you want to use, for example. But Migration Assistant provides an elegant, convenient and absolutely free way of managing the transition to becoming a Mac user, as long as you have the time to use it.

Have any questions?

Put them in the comments and I'll help you out.

Originally published January 2015. Updated October 2016 to reflect changes in macOS Sierra.