A PC user's guide to the Mac keyboard

Macs and Windows PCs are similar in some respects, but different functions have been mapped to different keyboard keys and different modifier keys. So if you've just switched to Mac and you're having trouble finding your way around, use this guide to help you out. There's even a bonus trackpad tip at the end!

Switch to Mac


Every week our Peter Cohen brings you Switch to Mac — a column to help you move from Windows PC to the Mac and OS X!

If you've never used a Mac before, one of the first things you'll notice is that Apple keyboards look a bit different than their Windows counterparts. Control, Start and Alt keys have been replaced with Fn, Control, Option and Command, for example.

Besides developing the muscle memory to make selecting modifier keys an automatic response, you'll also need to learn your way around some new commands that replace commands you're familiar with from Windows. Here's a quick primer on the most common Windows commands and their Mac equivalents.

  • Control: On the Mac keyboard this is the command key. Hold down command and press S to save a document, for example, or X to cut, C to copy and V to paste.
  • Alt: On the Mac keyboard this is the option key (and on some keyboards it's marked as "alt" in superscript). This enables you to enter special characters, like the ™ mark (option-2), or my favorite,  (option-shift k). Also useful for entering diacritics and accents (é is option-e, for example).
  • Alt tab: Miss switching between apps in Windows using alt tab? Use command tab instead. The Mac will pop up a menu that will enable you to cycle through open apps. (You can cycle backwards using command shift tab instead.)
  • Control alt delete: If you're stuck and an app stops responding, the Mac equivalent to control alt delete is command option esc. That will bring up the Force Quit menu, and you can specify which stuck app you'd like the Mac to quit.

It'll take a while for you to learn the new keyboard mappings, so be patient with yourself. If you'd like to keep a quick visual guide handy, open up the Keyboard system preference and check the Show Keyboard & Character Viewers in menu bar option. A new menu bar item will appear with a Show Keyboard Viewer option; selecting that will show a visual keyboard map on your Mac's screen.

You'll notice a few keys missing from your Mac keyboard that you're probably accustomed to. There's no PRINT SCRN button, for example — helpful if you want to take screenshots. The Mac equivalent is command shift 3. You can print a specific window, menu or selection by pressing command shift 4. There's no HOME or END on most Apple keyboards, either, but command left arrow and command right arrow get the job done.

Last thing: If you're confused by your Mac trackpad's seeming absence of a second button, don't worry: You can fix that by opening the Trackpad system preference and clicking Secondary click (you have several options for how to configure it — click or tap with two fingers, click in bottom left corner, or click in bottom right corner).