Switching to Mac: Translating Windows terminology to OS X

When you switch to the Mac, it can feel disorienting at first. That's especially true if you've used Windows PCs for years. Adjusting to the Mac doesn't take long, but if you're used to finding certain applications, files, and system settings on Windows, it helps to quickly pick up their OS X equivalents. Here's a short glossary with all the essentials.

  • Alt key: The Mac equivalent is the option key, which may be marked alt as well.
  • Close button: The close button on Windows and OS X work very differently. The X, or close button on a Windows app will stop all processes associated with an app. The red close button on the Mac will only close that app's active window. To quit the app out of memory, go to the application menu and select Quit (or type command Q).
  • Control Panel: On the Mac, that's System Preferences. Accessible from the menu, the Dock or the Applications folder.
  • Ctrl key: The Mac equivalent is the command key.
  • Ctrl+Shift+Esc: This Windows shortcut brings up the Task Manager, which enables you to kill an app that's suddenly hung up or having a problem. We call it force quitting an application on hte Mac. The Mac command to bring up the Force Quit dialogue is command option esc. You can also click on the menu and select Force Quit.
  • File Explorer/Windows explorer: The equivalent is the Mac Finder. It lets you look at all the files on your Macintosh.
  • Maximize button: We call it the Zoom button on the Mac. It's the green button on the title bar of many windows in Mac apps.
  • Minimize button: The yellow button works the same way on the Mac as it does on the PC. Clicking it causes the window to shrink into the Dock. You can click the window icon in the Dock to restore it.
  • My Documents/Documents: The Mac equivalent is the Documents folder. From the Finder, click the Go menu and select Documents (or type command shift O).
  • My Music/Music: There's a Music folder in your user directory on the Mac, too. That's where iTunes keeps its library, and where other music apps often put their files too.
  • My Pictures/Pictures: Look in the Pictures folder. The Pictures folder should be listed in the Favorites sidebar in any new Finder window.
  • Notepad: On the Mac it's called TextEdit. It's a simple text editor that can read Microsoft Word, Open Document, Web archive, HTML, rich text and plain text file formats. Look for it your Applications folder.
  • Recycle Bin: On the Mac, that's the Trash. You'll find it in the Dock.
  • Shortcut: It's called an alias on the Mac. You create one by selecting an app, folder or file icon and typing command L or clicking the File menu and selecting Make Alias.
  • Taskbar: The Mac has the Dock, which by default is on the bottom of your screen. You can change its placement to the left or right side of the screen using the Dock system preference.

If you've recently switched to the Mac, let me know how the transition went for you, and what you had the easiest and the hardest time adjusting to.

21 Comments
  • After spending 20 odd years on Windows PCs, I bought an iMac last month (Not the 5K one. Not that rich!). Never used the Mac OS before. It took me quite a while to figure out what is the equivalent for Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V in Mac. Also, I was surprised to see only one mouse button on the default mouse supplied with the iMac. How would you do a "right mouse" click then? Google came to my rescue there. Since then, I had been pressing the control button and the mouse click to get to right mouse click menu till yesterday when I realized I could pair a normal two button Dell bluetooth mouse with the iMac and get to the right mouse click by simply clicking the right mouse button. I love my iMac. And I love this discovery phase.
  • The Magic Mouse included with the iMac can "right click" as well. With the mouse paired to your Mac, all you have to do is go to the Mouse system preference and check the preference for right clicking, if it's not already selected. The mouse can differentiate a click on the right and left sides based on your finger placement.
  • " quite a while to figure out what is the equivalent for Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V in Mac"? That's where Google comes in. It takes 30 seconds to Google "How to copy paste on mac".
  • Sometimes I wish I didn't works the real corporate world so I could justify buying a Mac. Sent from the iMore App
  • Wow autocorrect, "didn't work in the real corporate world". Sent from the iMore App
  • My main job is as a state contractor and the main tool I use is a web based database program that is "optimized" for IE 7, which translated to english doesn't work for crap on anything else. I switched to Mac almost three years ago and I have spent some considerable money to keep virtualization software current. The reason? The Mac made me love using a computer again, especially for all other things going on in my life whether its keeping the books for my church, Doing video and music projects or just all the other day to day activities.
  • I switched to Mac at home in mid 2009 with a 15" MBP. I found the transition easy. At the time, Apple had tutorial videos on their website for people making the change. This was during the "I'm a Mac, and I'm a PC" campaign. I have found Macs to simply work, and to be more intuitive than PCs. I'm still using that same MBP but I might buy a new one this year. I never got 6 years out of a PC, so when I factor longevity in, the Mac really isn't any more expensive than a "good" PC.
  • Double clicking the title bar of an app in OS X minimizes the window to the Dock; in Windows, it maximizes it fit the screen.
    //Oh, wait. This doesn't involve terminologies.
  • OMG! I have had a macbook pro 13 for a month and thanks to you I have just done the minimise for the first time! wow that is so much easier then right clicking on the app icon and clicking hide and clicking the yellow icon. :-) Thanks guys. I still learning but loving the move to my Mac. I love it.
  • One more folder mapping you may wish to include in your list is: My Downloads/Downloads -> Downloads Though that may be so obvious as not to need it.
  • Guess its Win key = Command key (mac equivalent) whereas ctrl remains same for both.
  • I remember when I first "switched". It was such a pain in the butt. THEN, I realized I needed to dumb myself down a lot. Things are simpler on Mac. Once you let go and "get stupid", it will be easier to use. I've used that method to teach friends how to use it when they switch, and it's much easier for hem to "learn" that way.
  • Honestly things are a lot more similar than they are different. People seem scared trying to switch from windows to os x because apple fans love to highlight differences between the two, but 90% of those differences are negligible and can be solved with a little poking around and googling.
  • bought my first imac last year. this was not a sudden purchase, this was a very planned out and anticipated purchase, so for weeks before the actual purchase i watched many tutorials on youtube on how to do this and that on a mac. I had absolutely no trouble what so ever with my new imac right out of the box. hooked up my portable hard drive to it and it very efficiently and eloquently uploaded all of my windows files - music, videos, photos, text documents without a hitch and properly placed all those files where they should be on a mac. thank god for windows 8!!! since I abhorred windows 8 (I love a desktop enviornment) I took a chance and bought my first mac and probably will never switch back to a windows machine again.
  • My experience was pretty much similar. I loaded my update to Windows 8 and I was so unimpressed with it that, while I was waiting for my computer to get back from the manufacturer to restore it back to Windows 7, I went and purchased a MacBook Pro. I don't think I want to go back!
  • The biggest problem I've faced is that when I go back to work and use my windows laptop, I inevitably try to use the mouse pad gestures on it. Surprise, surprise, what I was trying to do didn't work!
    I really do love my MacBook!
  • Really nice post. There is a type in this line " We call it force quitting an application on hte Mac. "
  • I've been learning how to properly use a Mac, it cost me a few hours and a lot more pattience than I believe, but it's great. I'm doing that for any reason I need to use my Sister's MacBook and I don't have my Windows Laptop at hand.
  • When I put Hackintosh on my PC I was sad that I lost functionality of my fingerprint reader. Posted via iMore App
  • PLEASE, do yourself a huge favor... SWITCH TODAY and never look back.
  • EXE = Application Bundle or '.app' or 'special folder than contains a Contents folder, MacOS folder and the actual 'exe'.
    The lovely thing with Mac apps? You can hack into em easily haha!