Leaving Windows for Mac, but taking its best features with me

After recently witnessing my work laptop die after less than 15 minutes of being unplugged, I sent that e-mail to my IT administrator that many an office worker is tempted to write when their technology fails them.

“When are we doing our next hardware refresh?” I asked him, speaking his IT-guy lingo like a sly fox. “I understand handsome IT managers like yourself are so good at their jobs they know to replace employee laptops at least every two years.”

Not only did he respond that it was indeed time for my next upgrade, but I had a choice of either getting another Windows PC or going with a Mac. I’ve always used Windows PCs as my main computer, and I’ve even advocated for the budget saving advantage of buying a PC vs. a Mac in this 2011 video:

But the opportunity gave me pause. After considering that a MacBook Pro would be a little looser on the administrative rights (so I can do things like update Evernote without requiring an admin to come by and type in a password) and enable me to do video editing on the go with Final Cut X, I decided to make the leap.

Less than a week after using my new MacBook Pro (mid-2012, non retina-display edition) I’m quite enjoying the experience and back to the full productivity I had when working with Windows. But it didn’t come without a bit of poking and prodding at OS X to get things running the way I’d expect.

Here’s a few of the things I did to make my Mac experience just a bit more Windows-like:

Making OS X a bit less alien

Getting used to the Mac interface is made tolerable by the fact that I’m using most of the same applications I did in Windows anyway. The first thing I installed upon connecting to my WiFi network was Google’s Chrome browser. I’m sure Safari is just fine and there are plenty of Apple fans out there that will point to its superior performance metrics when compared across browsers on a point-by-point basis; it just doesn’t matter to me. I’m plugged into Chrome’s unified experience across all my devices thanks to the sign-in and sync feature. My bookmarks, plugins, Web apps, etc. are all configured in Chrome already.

Next up to deal with is the Dock. Thanks to Windows task bar, which has been a go-to application launcher since Windows 95, I’m familiar with clicking on icons at the bottom of the screen to open programs. But Mac OS X has an obnoxiously large Dock when you put it next to the task bar. I don’t need my short cuts to take up that much screen real estate, thanks very much. It seems like the default setting is more suited for accessibility options. Gold thing you can go into System Preferences > Dock and turn down the size to something more tasteful. I like the magnification feature that causes the icons to become larger as I scroll over them too.

‘Aero’ visual cues on Mac

Still, something is missing. As painful as the memory of my tedious years spent using Windows Vista are, I have been groomed to enjoy some of its Aero user interface enhancements (that were carried on in Windows 7). Hovering over an icon in the task bar revealed a preview pane of the windows open on the screen, and I could click into the one I wanted. A handy “snap” feature meant I could instantly resize a window to be half the screen, or full screen with a two-fingered keyboard shortcut or quick motion of the wrist with my mouse.

Enter HyperDock. Found in the Mac App Store, this $10 download adds all the Windows shortcuts that have been burned into my keyboard-reflex memory. Well worth it, and it even comes with special preview panes for iTunes and the Calendar.

Reducing clutter with Web app shortcuts

But my app-launching setup still isn’t quite to where I want it to be. Working on my Windows laptop is like wearing a pair of well-worn, broken in jeans and this new Mac is still feeling a bit starchy. On Windows, I could launch my Web apps by clicking on individual short cuts for them on the desktop or in the task bar. It was a convenient way to avoid cluttering up my browser with often-used tabs like HootSuite and Gmail. I was dismayed to find this isn’t an option with Mac OS X.

At least, not natively. A little app called Fluid solves the problem neatly. Download and install this little client and you’re presented with a simple interface asking for a URL. Enter it in, give it a name, and presto – you’ve got a new shortcut in your applications. You’ll need to pay a few dollars to unlock the premium version if you want to make your apps full screen, or access them from the status bar.

A real mouse has two buttons

One of Mac’s strongest user interface features lies in its multi-touch trackpad and touch sensitive Magic Mouse. I rely on the swiping to scroll around the screen and switch between apps – it’s great. But being raised on Windows, I just can’t give up my right-click functionality. No, pressing control and clicking the left mouse button isn’t good enough! That’s the default solution to right-click with a Mac, but I did discover that you can turn on right clicking if you have a Magic Mouse connected. Just search “mouse” in Spotlight, and you’ll find the System Preferences. Under “Point and Click” you can turn on “Secondary Click” to active Windows-style right clicking.

While some Apple purists may be shocked at my disfiguration of OS X, I’m happy with the improvements. It’s made me more productive and comfortable moving around this strange new platform.

I’d love to hear about any of your own favourite OS X tweaks, let me know right below in the comments section.

Brian Jackson
Brian Jackson
Editorial director of IT World Canada. Covering technology as it applies to business users. Multiple COPA award winner and now judge. Paddles a canoe as much as possible.

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