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I've Switched from Windows, Now What?

by Terrie Miller

Watching my Windows laptop inch toward ruin was unpleasant and frustrating. But the deathwatch was made worse knowing that I probably wouldn't receive a replacement laptop at work. Once I accepted the fact that I'd have to pony up for my own computer, I realized that this dark cloud might have a very nice silver -and- Aqua lining.

Apple laptops had been showing up at work since the first of the year--all of them self-purchased. In large part, the combination of Unix-based OS running on very appealing hardware seemed to be just the remedy for the Windows 98 blues. Even though I'd never spent that much time on a Macintosh before, I was soon unpacking my first computer from Apple--a svelte 12-inch iBook. But since I'm a full-time Web producer in a tough economy, I had to get up to speed ... and fast!

Like that first middle-of-the-night excursion to the bathroom in a dark, unfamiliar house, there was some clumsiness in getting used to the new iBook/Mac OS X environment. In the spirit of "learn from my mistakes," here's the first in a series of articles that documents the things former Windows users need to know when making the switch to Mac OS X. I hope some of these tips will help you get up to speed too.

Right-Clicking and Other Mousing Fun

Related Reading

Mac OS X: The Missing Manual
By David Pogue

A typical Windows user will quickly notice that there's only one mouse button on an Apple machine. Sure you can install a two-button mouse, but if you prefer to use the built-in version, just press the ctrl key while clicking. The ctrl-click combination gives you most of the same options as a right-click in Windows.

If you're using a Mac laptop's built-in Trackpad for the first time, you may notice some erratic effects caused by inadvertently touching the Trackpad. The first is the "epileptic pointer" syndrome: suddenly your pointer is jumping spastically from one part of the screen to another. Just relax--literally. You probably have both thumbs resting on the Trackpad at the same time, and you just need to lift one. Once you're aware of the cause, avoiding the problem soon becomes second nature.

Sometimes you may find yourself typing away when suddenly the focus changes to another area of the screen (I've often noticed this while filling out Web forms). This can be caused by your thumb dragging along the Trackpad at the same time you're typing. It's another case where experience will teach you better habits, but in this case there's a Mac OS X setting that can help. Under System Preferences -> Mouse, turn on "Ignore Trackpad while typing."

Screen shot.
Getting into the Mac OS X system preferences.

Screen shot.
In the mouse options dialog, you can turn on "Ignore Trackpad while typing".

When this option is turned on, Mac OS X will ignore much of your inadvertent mousing.

Keyboard Commands

Though you can be pretty quick with an iBook's Trackpad, you'll probably want to learn some speedy keyboard shortcuts. If you've been using Windows keyboard shortcuts, you're in for some frustration. Maybe some of these tips will help ease the pain.

First of all, the Mac's "Ctrl" key doesn't work the same as in Windows. But you can try using the key with the "cloverleaf" and Apple symbols: the "Command" (Cmd) key. For some of the more common keyboards tasks, Cmd will do the same as Control (Ctrl) does in Windows. For example, Cmd-C, Cmd-V, and Cmd-X do copy, paste, and cut (respectively) under Mac OS X.

Picture of keyboard.
The bottom row of the iBook keyboard. The Command key, with the cloverleaf/apple symbols, does many of the same things as the Control key under Windows... but the Mac also has its own separate ctrl key.

The "delete" key works a bit differently than you might expect also--it functions more like the Windows backspace key. To get a forward-delete text action like the standard delete key under Windows, try fn-delete. I was initially frustrated by trying to press delete to remove highlighted items from the desktop or finder windows; in those situations, try Cmd-delete.

Here are some of the basic keyboard commands under Mac OS X that I've found most helpful. Again, many will be familiar as they're just a matter of using the Command key rather than the Ctrl key:











Select all






Redo (often -- however some applications toggle Undo/Redo using only Cmd-Z rather than supporting multiple levels of Undo)


Find (and usually brings up Replace options also)


Find Again


Take a screen shot of the entire display (saves it as .tiff file to your desktop)


Take a screen shot of the section of screen you select (cross-hairs will appear; also saves as a .tiff file to your desktop)


Minimize window


Minimize all windows open for that application.


Open a new window.


Cycle through open applications on the Dock.

That last one--Cmd-Tab to cycle through open applications--is just close enough to the Windows Alt-Tab to be annoying. But cycling through applications is quite different than using Alt-Tab to toggle back and forth in Windows. In Windows you can use Alt-Tab to flip back and forth between two applications or windows with one keystroke--but Cmd-Tab in Mac OS X cycles through open applications in the order in which they appear on the Dock. It does not move you through open windows in each application, and if you have four applications open it will move you from one to the next, not back and forth between them.

By changing a few System Preferences, you can access the Dock by keyboard commands in even more powerful ways. Check out the System Preferences -> Keyboard, and choose the "Full Keyboard Access" tab.

Screen shot.
Turning on full keyboard access.

Related Reading

Mac OS X Pocket Reference
A User's Guide to Mac OS X
By Chuck Toporek

First, check the box next to "Turn on full keyboard access". This allows you to use keystrokes to navigate through the menu, the Dock, and so on. To determine how you reach those areas from the keyboard, use the "Use control with" section of the dialog box. You can choose function keys, letter keys, or custom keys. I like using the letter keys, so I can just press Ctrl-M to jump to the menu bar Ctrl-D to jump to the Dock. Once there, you can use the arrow keys to navigate through your options, which can be surprisingly fast. Plus in this mode, you can navigate through all the choices on the Dock via the keyboard, including unopened applications and minimized windows.

You can also press ctrl-F1 to turn full keyboard access on and off. Remember, though, the iBook's F1 key's default task is to dim the screen. To press "ctrl-F1", you really need to press three keys -- fn-ctrl-F1. Use the default state for the F1 thru F5 keys to control screen brightness and audio volume.

If you just want to move through open Internet Explorer windows, you can use Cmd-~. But this is specific to MSIE and is not a standard used by other programs.

Arrow Keys

A lot of my work involves text editing, and I've become pretty speedy using arrow, home, end, and pg-up/pg-dn keys to navigate through text. But these keys sometimes work differently on Mac OS X and an iBook.

The arrow keys work pretty much the same as you'd expect for moving around in a document. Add the shift key to select text as you move through it. Add the option key to increase the cursor movement by one unit--option-right-arrow moves the insertion point right a word at a time; option-up-arrow moves the insertion point up a paragraph at a time.

Using the Command key with the arrow keys will give you a cursor jump to the "next semantic unit"--usually the beginning or the end of the line. In typical applications, using the Command up/down arrow moves the insertion point to the top and bottom of the document. Command left/right arrow moves the insertion point to the beginning and the end of the line.

Use the fn key to get the home/end/pg-up/pg-dn functions. But remember- using these keys does not move the insertion point--they work the same as scroll bars do. If you're typing away and press Home, you'll see the top of your document, but if you just start typing you'll be inserting text at the location you were at when you pressed the Home key.

iBook key combo

Usual action


Moves insertion point one word left/right


Moves insertion point one paragraph back/forward


Moves insertion point to beginning/end of line.


Moves insertion point to top/bottom of document

fn-home/end/pg up/pg dn

Moves to beginning/end/one screen up/one screen down -- but does not change insertion point.

A Word of Warning

Whether or not these keyboard commands work in any given program depends, of course, on how well that program supports them (and there are some differences when using non-English systems as well). I've found that keyboard commands and navigating with arrow keys are quite different in BBEdit. I'm a new BBEdit user, so I'm hoping that this is only a result of some setting, perhaps for legacy users, but I haven't found it yet. Note: see the talkbacks below, including "Info on BBEdit Keyboard Commands", for additional information on keyboard commands in BBEdit.

If you're interested in more nitty-gritty interface details, check out Apple's Aqua Human Interface Guidelines--it's the ultimate authority on how things should work.

See you next time!

Terrie Miller is an amateur naturalist, citizen scientist, permaculturist and writer from Northern Calfornia. Her personal weblog is

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