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Ease into the Switch

by Michael Brewer
08/30/2002

I became a Mac user a little less than one year ago; before that I was primarily a Windows user. In this article I'm going to show you how to make the transition yourself.

Apple's "Switch" ad campaign has driven a lot of Windows users to Apple stores as well as to Apple's Web site in search of more information about the platform. Apple tells us that over 60 percent of the visits to apple.com/switch have been made from a Windows computer. The other 40 percent are more than likely made up of Unix and Linux users, as well as curious Mac users.

I also believe that OS X 10.2 (Jaguar) is going to be a big draw for new users. Mac OS X was driving force in my interest in the Mac platform and I bought my iBook when Apple started preloading it (Mac OS X 10.1) on its computers.

So, if you're contemplating a switch to Mac, or if you're just getting frustrated with Windows, this article is for you. It may also prove beneficial to new Mac users, like Astrid Storm, who is an Episcopal priest who considers herself a victim of the Switch campaign. Maybe Astrid would be happier if she had read a piece or two like this one after setting up her new Mac.

And finally, if you know someone who is thinking of taking the leap, send them a link to this article. My hope is that this information will help those people with their decision.

Yes, It Works with Two-Button Mouses

Mac OS X has native support for two-button mousing devices as well as the almost ubiquitous scroll wheel. Incidentally, I use a Logitech Dual Optical Mouse with my Macintosh. You don't need to load any drivers to get them to work either, just plug them in. However, if you would like to use a mouse with more than two buttons, you'll want to make sure there is Mac OS X software for the model you buy.

However, you don't need a two-button mouse to get the same context-click functionality you might be familiar with in Windows. You can context-click on a Mac by right-clicking, control-clicking, and by pressing. Pressing has other names, such as click-and-hold or half-click. The action here is to press the mouse button down but not release it. (Control-clicking is holding down the Control key (ctrl) while clicking.)

And for those of you who ask why Apple still chooses to ship a one-button mouse standard, I'll offer you this. Most of the Windows users I know do not use the secondary mouse button. I actually did telephone support for Microsoft at one point in my life and getting the average caller to understand what a "right-click" was stretches the bounds of your average techie's patience. A one-button mouse is also usable by people who lack the dexterity to manipulate a multibutton mouse. I recently heard from one Mac user who said he keeps his Apple Pro Mouse around for when his children need to use the computer; they aren't capable of using his multibutton mouse.

Kensington, a company that makes peripherals primarily for the Macintosh, has developed a wonderful new mouse called the StudioMouse. It has three buttons, comes with software to allow you to program its functionality, and boasts a touch sensor that replaces a scroll wheel. I may get one because the scroll wheel often hurts my finger during marathon computing sessions.

Making the Best Dock

One of the first things you'll want to do is drag your Applications folder to the Dock. The Dock is the strip of icons located at the bottom of your screen by default.

Click on the Finder icon (it's the first icon) in the Dock to launch a Finder window. Select Go from the menubar (at the top of your screen) and then select Computer. Double-click on the hard drive icon, it should be labeled Macintosh HD. You'll see a folder labeled Applications, which has a letter "A" on it. Drag that folder to your Dock and place it to the right of the separator bar. From now on you'll have easy access to all of your Applications.

As an added bonus, if you context-click on the Applications folder in the Dock you'll get a contextual menu of all your applications, similar to Windows' Start Menu, which you can use to launch them from. Some other folders that you may or may not find handy to have in the Dock are your Home folder (it's named after your username) and your Documents folder.

Contextual menu.
After you place your Applications folder on the right side of the Dock, you can CTRL-click on the icon to reveal all your apps.

I also recommend placing your Dock on the side of your screen. It's best to not have it take up vertical space because that's what you run out of first. Horizontal space is usually bountiful on computer displays, especially if you have one of Apple's beautiful Cinema Displays. I tried the Dock on the left initially, because I'm used to accessing the Start Menu on the left-hand side. However, because most of my windows open on the left, I moved the Dock to the right to get it out of the way of those few applications that don't behave well. You can set the position through Dock preferences via the Apple menu in the menubar.

My Dock preferences.
Dock magnification is good, but you might want to keep it somewhere below 25 percent.

Another neat trick is to turn on magnification, yet set the magnification to a low level. I have mine set somewhere below 25 percent. This causes magnification to kick in only when you've placed enough icons or minimized enough windows to make the size dip below the threshold. You'll never have to worry about icons in the Dock being too small.

If you're running Max OS X on a slower computer, such as my iBook, you might want to look into setting the Dock to minimize using Scale Effect--that is if you can bear changing it from the delicious but difficult-to-render Genie Effect. Mind you, Genie performs much better on a computer running Jaguar. It is especially better on a computer with a powerful enough video subsystem to drive Quartz Extreme.

To put new applications in your Dock all you have to do is drag the application file to the Dock and it'll be there from then on. You can also context-click on the icon of any running application and select Keep In Dock. Removing applications from the Dock is just as easy: simply drag it from the Dock and the icon will disappear in a puff of smoke--seriously. Don't worry, your application will still be fine. It's merely the icon in the Dock that has been banished.

Switching Tasks as well as Platforms

Task switching in Mac OS X is a bit different than in Windows. You'll need to use Command+Tab instead of Alt+Tab. Thankfully, the keys are in about the same location. In previous versions of Mac OS X, task switching occurred in the order that the applications appeared in the Dock. As of 10.2 task switching still follows the order of applications as they appear in your Dock, but now starts with your last used application. In other words, all you have to do to switch to the last used application is hit Command+Tab. Holding down Shift reverses the direction and you can hit Q while you have an application icon highlighted to quit it. This is a lot more like Windows and obviously Apple agrees with me that it is more logical than strictly following the order of icons in the Dock.

With that aside, I'd like to introduce you to LiteSwitch X. It brings the Windows functionality (and much more) to Mac OS X in a beautiful package. I have LiteSwitch X set up to use Alt+Tab (also referred to as Option+Tab) as the task-switching function. It cannot override Jaguar's keybindings. You have access to a lot of features by pressing certain keys while an application is highlighted. For instance, you can mark a group of applications for termination by hitting Q--they'll terminate once you release the Command key. You can also hide and show, quit immediately, force quit, or hide all other applications through a simple keypress. Dragging a file onto an application while you have the LiteSwitch menu up will open the file in the application. You can also context-click on the icons in the LiteSwitch menu.

How much does all of this functionality cost? It's free. Although I'm definitely willing to kick $10 Proteron's way if it'll increase the chances they will continue to support it.

LiteSwitch X's pop-up.
LiteSwitch X by Proteron adds power to your Dock and to the handling of applications.

In the past, I almost had to use LiteSwitch to get any work done. But now with Jaguar's new functionality I'll have to see if I can go it alone without LiteSwitch X.

Do You See the Signs

Apple takes advantage of using symbols to represent certain keypresses in menus and elsewhere in the operating system. However, if you don't know what these symbols mean, you'll be lost, as I was for at least a week or two. That's why I created this cheat sheet for you. Below you'll see an image I created that you can save for reference in your first few days of Mac use.

Macintosh's key symbols.
When you read Mac articles and books, you'll see these symbols. Depending on your keyboard, they might not be that easy to figure out, so here's a key you can refer to.

Get the Combinations

Windows 3.0 and later borrowed a lot of key combinations from the Macintosh, so it shouldn't take you too long to get used to them here. However, there are several other combinations that Apple has standardized, which are missing from Windows. Next you'll see a layout of many useful commands with their corresponding keypress symbols.

Mac OS X's key bindings.
Now here's some of the most common key combinations using those symbols.

Feel free to print this image out and tack it up to your wall for a few weeks.

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