Tips for Switchers

If you’re one of the many people who have finally decided to make the “Switch” to Mac OS X from Windows or another Unix operating system (such as FreeBSD, Solaris, or Linux), this section is intended to be a quick reference guide to aid in your transition to the Mac. I’ve tried to point out some key differences between your old platform and Mac OS X to help you acclimate yourself with your Mac.

General Tips for Switchers

The following tips apply (in general terms) to Switchers from both Windows and other Unix-based systems, as well as users who’ve made the transition from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X:

  • The Mac user interface has only one menu bar—at the top of the screen—instead of one on each window. The menu bar’s contents change depending on which application is currently active. The name of the application that’s currently active appears in bold text next to the Apple menu.

  • At first, you will sorely miss your two- or three-button mouse. You can emulate right-button functions by holding down the Control key when clicking. Mac OS X also supports multibutton mice, mapping the Control key to the right mouse button.

  • If you have a scrollwheel mouse, Mac OS X should detect it automatically and provide options for how the scrollwheel performs via the System Preferences Mouse preferences panel.

  • To find what Mac OS X applications you have on your system, click on the Applications icon in the Finder’s toolbar.

  • To find out which Mac OS 9 applications you have on your system, click on Finder Computer Macintosh HD Applications (Mac OS 9).

  • Printer setup and queue control is handled by the Print Center application (/Applications/Utilities). You may want to drag it onto the Dock or place its icon in the Finder toolbar for easy access.

  • Each user has his own desktop, which is stored in /Users/ username /Desktop. By default, many documents (such as files downloaded from the Web or saved attachments) are stored in /Users/ username /Documents. Files stored in the Desktop folder will appear on the desktop when you log in.

  • Looking for an update to some piece of software you’re running on your system? Check out Version Tracker (

If you’re a Mac OS 9 user and you are on the fence about switching or upgrading to Mac OS X, now’s the time to get off that fence and upgrade. Mac OS X is a more stable operating system than Mac OS 9, and you can still run your Mac OS 9 applications on top of Mac OS X in the Classic environment.

Tips for Windows Switchers

If you’re coming to the Mac from a Windows system, these tips are for you:

  • The Apple menu, located at the far left of the menu bar, is roughly analogous to the Windows Start menu (although it doesn’t list common utilities).

  • The basic GUI control program, akin to the Windows Explorer or the Window Manager in Windows, is called the Finder. Clicking on its icon in the Dock (the blue smiley-face icon) brings up a Finder window, not the desktop, as you might expect.

  • System Preferences is analogous to the Windows Control Panel. The System Preferences application can be launched by clicking on its icon in the Dock (the one that looks like a light switch with a gray apple next to it).

  • The Dock is analogous to the Windows Task Bar. It is initially populated with some frequently accessed applications, such as the Finder, System Preferences, and Sherlock. You can drag any program icon onto the Dock to create a shortcut to it accessible at all times.

  • The Command key (

    Tips for Windows Switchers

    ) provides many of the functions that you are used to having associated with the Control key. For example, use

    Tips for Windows Switchers

    -C to copy, not Control-C;

    Tips for Windows Switchers

    -S to save, not Control-S; etc.

  • If you’re accustomed to using Alt-Tab to switch between active applications, you should use

    Tips for Windows Switchers

    -Tab to do the same thing on the Mac. (Even though the Option key does say “alt” on it, the Option key doesn’t do the same things that the Alt key does on a Windows system.)

  • You can use StuffIt Expander (/Applications/Utilities) to unzip files by double-clicking on the Zip archive.

  • You can zip up files from the command line in the Terminal application (/Applications/Utilities). See Chapter 5 for examples on how to Zip and unzip files from the command line.

  • If you really want Windows, you can install Virtual PC, which allows you to run Windows applications on top of Mac OS X.


Windows users will benefit most from David Pogue’s new book, Switching to the Mac, co-published by Pogue Press and O’Reilly & Associates.

Tips for Unix Switchers

If you’re coming to Mac OS X from another Unix OS, these tips are for you:

  • The Unix command line (the tcsh shell) is available via the Terminal application (/Applications/Utilities). If you plan to work frequently from the command line, you should add the Terminal application’s icon to the Dock by dragging its icon there.

  • The available user shells include bash, csh, sh, tcsh (the default), and zsh; bash is the default for shell scripts instead of zsh as in earlier versions of Mac OS X.

  • While Mac OS X is Unix-based, it doesn’t come with the X Window System. You can download and install a rootless version of X, but first you should download and install Fink (, which you can use to download and automatically install X Windows and other BSD Unix applications.

  • While the Terminal application gives you a command-line interface, it is slightly different from an xterm. For example, the Terminal doesn’t have a .xinitrc file from which to control how Terminal windows appear. Instead, use Terminal Show Info (

    Tips for Unix Switchers

    -I) to configure your Terminal’s appearance.

  • For Unix users and administrators, you’ll quickly find out that some of the standard admin commands are missing or that useful options aren’t there. For example, the commands for managing users and groups don’t exist; for that, you need to use the System Preferences panels, and/or NetInfo Manager (/Applications/Utilities).

  • To find out which Unix applications and utilities are available, you can poke around in /usr/bin, /usr/local/bin, /usr/sbin, /usr/share, and /usr/libexec.


    To quickly list all the binary executables on your system, use Control-X Tab or Control-X Control-D to list all the binaries in the Terminal.

  • By default, the root user (or superuser ) isn’t activated. If you are the only user on your system, you will have administrator privileges by default, which allows you to use the sudo command. See Section 2.7.3 later in this book for details on how to activate the root user.


    For most tasks, the sudo command should suffice. Enable the root user account only if you must, taking into consideration the possible security risks that go along with a root-enabled system.

  • Looking for virtual desktops? Give Space (by Riley Lynch) a try (

  • Speaking of Sourceforge (, you’ll find lots of freeware applications and utilities for Mac OS X here, as you have in the past for Linux and freeBSD.

  • If you’re a Unix developer or system administrator, we suggest you pick up a copy of Mac OS X for Unix Geeks (O’Reilly), which covers things such as the Terminal, Directory Services and NetInfo, compiling code with GCC, installing packages with Fink, and running the X Windows System on top of Mac OS X.

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