Some key differences between macOS and Windows that switchers have problems with


I’ve been trying out macOS on the latest Intel MacBook Air to see how I can get used to it as a daily driver and these are the things that I found are the most “annoying”, switching from Windows, although I’ve been adapting to them and I don’t find the design choices unreasonable:

macOS has a unified menu bar for all applications, always at the top of the screen, instead of being inside the window

This is a holdout from some Unix operating systems from a long time ago, which is probably why it’s in macOS, considering NeXT’s experiences with Unix before Apple brought Jobs back in. It’s a bit jarring at first, especially when using multiple tiled windows at a time. I think one of the reasons why Apple targets smaller screens is because they feel that a lot of users would rather just run applications full screen and toggle between them. This is main pillar of the iPad UX. With that in mind, the “foreground” application window is the one that controls what shows up in the menubar, and newer versions of macOS dim inactive background windows. Earlier versions didn’t make that distinction as apparent though.

The red X “close” button doesn’t close an application

It closes the window for the application, but the application remains running. Some Linux desktop environments still do this, but most just follow Windows methods. Again, this is another holdout from Unix where only the X-Window presentation of the application closes, and the application can still process data in the background. The dock at the bottom of the screen shows a dot or underline (depending on OS version or customization) under any running application icon. To completely shut down an application, you use Command-Q or find it in the menubar under the app name (making sure it’s the active window/application).

The green “maximize” button is actually a full-screen button (in newer macOS versions)

This will toggle between your floating window size and full-screen, hiding the dock and menubar. macOS has double-click gestures as well. If you double-click an edge of a floating window, it’ll extend that edge to the edge of the screen, excluding the menubar and dock space. If you double-click anywhere in the top part of the window, it’ll maximize the whole window without going full-screen. If you click and hold down on the green full-screen button, there’s a split-screen option that will also run in full-screen, similar to an iPad or Windows 8.x. macOS lacks the auto-resize window docking options that Windows 7 onward includes. I use Parallels Toolbox, which has its own Window Manager utility that includes the auto-resize window docking feature, but it’s something you have to pay for. It comes free with Parallels Desktop.

Minimized windows have their own space in the dock

This one is kind of weird but some Linux desktops still do this. If you have an application running, a dot shows up under the icon. When you minimize the window, another icon is created to the left of the separator bar on the dock. You can turn this functionality off in System Preferences if you’d rather not have it show an extra icon.

Shortcut keys seem weird at first, but easy to figure out when you understand this methodology

Most Windows shortcut keys use either Control or Alt as their main modifier key. Most macOS shortcut keys use Command (the one with the funny cloverleaf thing on it), whereas Control and Option (and sometimes Shift) are just extra modifiers for the Command shortcuts. Very few macOS shortcut keys use only Control or Option as their only modifier. I rarely hit the Control or Option key on a Mac keyboard. Many of the Windows Control-key shortcuts are exactly the same as the macOS Command-key shortcuts, such as Select-All, Cut, Copy, Paste, Search/Find-in-Page, Undo, Redo, Quit (although few people use Ctrl-Q on Windows anymore), etc. I would say that Apple does put a lot of emphasis on keyboard shortcuts – remember they had single-button mice for a long time that required modifier keys to get a secondary click, although all Mac’s have had multi-button mice and trackpads for years now too. Keyboard workers will find that the list of OS keyboard shortcuts is extensive. Oh, and Alt-Tab works as Command-Tab, but doesn’t show thumbnails. Mission Control shows thumbnails, but you don’t need a special shortcut key because Mac keyboards have a dedicated function key for it (usually F3 unless it’s a third-party keyboard).

The dock is like most docks. And THANK GOD for Launchpad

The old way of finding applications that weren’t pinned to the dock was to go to the Finder menubar, under the Go menu, click Applications, and load up an application like the Windows 2/3 Program Manager. Launchpad is like the iPad Home Screen – simple, limited, but gets you to your apps quickly. The one curiously left-out feature from Launchpad though: you can’t uninstall non-App Store apps from Launchpad. Launchpad doesn’t support dragging those icons into the Trash to uninstall them either. To uninstall DMG-style apps, you have to into the Application folder and drag the icon from there to the Trash. Otherwise, Launchpad is all good.

The rest is pretty minor

All in all, most of the rest of the differences are like the differences between Windows and Linux, or iOS and Android. There’s going to be different names for applications that mostly do the same things, and icons might be in different places on the screen, but the newer versions of macOS are pretty clean and fast.

Is there anything else I missed?

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