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Switching To Mac: Waving Goodbye To Your Windows Apps

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Anyone who has switched from Windows to Mac will know that it is quite a lengthy, drawn-out process. Sure, there are loads of tools and utilities out there to help you transfer your data and settings across, but when you're making a radical switch between two completely different operating systems, it is bound to take a while. In a couple of past tutorials, I have focused on how to switch from Windows to Mac (i.e. migrating your files and settings) and even how to choose your first Mac but there is one area that I haven't yet covered, and that's applications.

Around ten or so years ago, Macs had the same status as Linux systems: they were specialist computers with not much in the way of consumer software. Now, that situation is completely different, and you'll find the choice of software available for OS X refreshing and extensive. In this tutorial, I'm going to show you how to replace those Windows applications, you've been used to for so long, with their shiny Mac equivalents.


Default Windows Applications

Those considering switching from Windows to Mac will be pleased to know that most of the applications that come as standard with Windows are also present in OS X, albeit in a slightly different form.

Replace Windows Explorer With Finder

The most obvious is Windows Explorer, which is replaced by the Finder in OS X (which comes as standard with the operating system, as you'd probably expect!).

Finder replaces Windows Explorer as the default file browser.
Finder replaces Windows Explorer (shown) as the default file browser.

This allows you to browse all your files and folders and perform some basic tasks, such as copying, pasting and so on. Within Finder there are also some hidden features, such as the ability to share files over your local wireless network with other Macs (via AirDrop -- a upcoming feature in iOS 7) and to burn CDs and DVDs without the need for any third-party software. For a beginner's guide to Finder (and other core OS X features), then go and check out my OS X 101 tutorial.

Replace Windows Live Mail With Mail

When most people ask me, "what is the best mail client for the Mac", my response is often Apple Mail, as it comes with so many features built-in for free that you hardly need to ask for more. It supports a variety of different mail protocols (including Microsoft Exchange) and comes built in with OS X -- there's no need to install any additional software.

Apple Mail is a great replacement for Windows Live Mail and comes as standard with OS X.
Apple Mail is a great replacement for Windows Live Mail and comes as standard with OS X.

The best way to integrate your e-mail accounts is to go into System Preferences within OS X then clicking on Mail, Contacts and Calendars where they will be synced across other programs, such as Calendar and Contacts (both of which I'll look at in a moment).

Replace People With Contacts

The OS X address book is a little more tame than the Windows version (since renamed to People in Windows 8) but it still does a pretty good job at keeping all your contacts in order. Unfortunately, you'll lose the tight Twitter and LinkedIn integration that you get with People – Contacts can import all your address data from your Google, iCloud and Yahoo! accounts and, since the release of Mountain Lion, your Facebook contacts and their profile pictures will also appear there as well.

Contacts is the default address book within OS X, but unfortunately it is a little lacking in features compared to its Windows counterpart.
Contacts is the default address book within OS X, but unfortunately it is a little lacking in features compared to its Windows counterpart (shown).

One redeeming feature about Contacts is that it does integrate with other applications within OS X pretty well and it will group contacts based on their type. So, all your Facebook contacts will appear in one list, all your iCloud ones in another and so on. Editing contacts is fairly standard and changes are pushed through instantly (especially on iCloud), so you can rest assured that your data is always up to date.

Replace Windows Calendar With Calendar

Windows Calendar to me seems a pretty lacklustre affair, and the OS X Calendar has plenty of features to stop you resorting to a third-party solution. If you use iCloud, then your calendars sync across all your iOS devices automatically (sync via Google is also possible) and Calendar also supports notifications, subscriptions to other people's calendars (if they've shared them publically) and support for Microsoft Exchange.

You'll see a big improvement in OS X's Calendar compared to its Windows counterpart.

You'll see a big improvement in OS X's Calendar compared to its Windows counterpart.

Replace Photos With iPhoto

The Photos app within Windows 8 seems to be to just be a glorified image viewer which collates all the photos on your PC along with any you've imported from other devices, such as your mobile phone or tablet, and there's no possibility of editing your images unless you download external software. This is where OS X really excels with iPhoto -- one of the best free image editors out there. It comes as part of the iLife package that is installed as standard on all new Macs and features some pretty advanced features (it's based on the Aperture engine) for image editing and manipulating.

iPhoto is not only fantastic for editing your images but it can also help you export them to a variety of places and create some pretty cool looking slideshows.

iPhoto is not only fantastic for editing your images but it can also help you export them to a variety of places and create some pretty cool looking slideshows.

Image editing aside, you can also do a lot more with iPhoto, such as create slideshows and collages and, if you've got all your social networks set up in OS X, you can export them directly to Facebook and Flickr. Apple's OS X also features built-in support for most digital cameras, so when you plug it in you'll be prompted whether or not you'd like to import your images into your iPhoto library. If you've got Photo Stream set up (via iCloud), all your images from your iOS devices will appear within your library as well.

Replace Store With The App Store

A new addition in Windows 8 was the ability to purchase and download applications from the Windows Store. As you might have guessed, OS X has had this for some while (actually, since January 2011) and the Mac App Store comes as standard with OS X. You'll need to sign in with your Apple ID and there's a wide range of Mac software to download, from productivity applications to the latest game releases.

The Featured page of the Mac App Store.
The Featured page of the Mac App Store.

As of June 2013, there's around 15,000 applications in the Mac App Store ready for download (though unlike iOS, not all applications for Mac are featured in the Store) and what's great is that all purchases are linked to your Apple ID, so if you decide to change your Mac a couple of years down the line you won't have to hunt around for all those pesky serial numbers! For more information, check out Jordan Merrick's complete guide to the App Store, which looks at (amongst other things, of course!) how to find the best apps in a chosen category and how to install application updates.


Other Applications

Given the increasing popularity of OS X in both the home and the workplace, most developers now are releasing both Windows and Mac versions of their software. Take Microsoft, for example, who produce a Mac version of their popular Office suite. Although the features differ slightly, the functionality is largely the same and documents are compatible across platforms. Unlike other developers, though, the Mac version of Office is completely separate to the Windows version (the "latest" major release was back in 2011, unlike Office for Windows which saw a revamp this year), and the two are treated as separate products (the Mac version doesn't offer integration with Office 365, for example).

If you've got lots of copies of Windows software lying around, then CrossOver can run them natively under OS X.

If you've got lots of copies of Windows software lying around, then CrossOver can run them natively under OS X.

Contrary to popular belief, though, you can actually run native Windows applications on your Mac in two different ways. The first is to install a copy of Windows, either via Boot Camp or through a virtualisation package such as VMWare Fusion or Parallels Desktop, and run the applications from there. The second is to use an emulator, such as CrossOver, to run applications. Bear in mind, though, that only certain applications are supported by CrossOver (you can check which ones via their website) and sometimes the performance can be a little questionable (such as with games).


That's It!

For any prospective Mac user migrating from Windows, I hope that this tutorial has shown that you can replace your familiar Windows applications with their OS X equivalents and that switching over to a completely new system shouldn't be that big of an ordeal. Of course, I've mostly only covered the default software within OS X but if you have any better suggestions for people wishing to switch over to OS X (such as a better e-mail client than Mail) then please let our readers know in the comments section below!

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